Holmes, Allenby share lead at Sawgrass
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -The Players Championship was such a pushover Thursday that more than half the field broke par.
Even Tiger Woods.
With scrutiny higher than after the worst tournament of his career, Woods settled down after a shaky start and didn't make a bogey until his final hole for a 2-under 70 to join the assault on the TPC Sawgrass.
J.B. Holmes and Robert Allenby led the way at 6-under 66, a stroke ahead of eight players, including Lee Westwood of England and 49-year-old Kenny Perry. In muggy conditions with only a swirling breeze late in the day, 36 players broke 70, the most for the opening round of this tournament since 1994.
``It was a fun day, one of those rounds where everything was going pretty good,'' said Holmes, who played bogey-free and only once came close to making a bogey. ``It's kind of one of those rounds where it's not easy, but it felt pretty easy.''
Allenby played in the afternoon, when the breeze kicked up, and only had one lapse with a three-putt on the par-3 eighth.
Conditions were perfect for low scoring, and the Stadium Course allows for that with reachable par 5s and a few hole locations in areas that could be attacked.
``Greens were a bit slow out there, definitely quite soft after the rain that we've had the last couple of days,'' Allenby said. ``It definitely made it very accessible, some of those flags. I'm happy with the start, just happy to be amongst it.''
It was a big crowd.
Francesco Molinari of Italy had a chance to join the leaders until he chopped up the par-5 ninth hole for a bogey and joined the large group at 68. Those at 69 included Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh, along with Davis Love III, who showed that even a benign Sawgrass still has some bite. He was tied for the lead until making bogeys on the last three holes.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who has a chance to be No. 1 in the world for the first time with a victory and Woods finishing out of the top five, didn't have his best stuff but still managed a 70.
``Shooting 70 today isn't the round that you want,'' Mickelson said. ``We came out in perfect conditions. There wasn't much wind, the greens were receptive, and there were a lot of low scores. But the reason I think this was a good day for me is I just didn't have it. So tomorrow if I can come out and get hot and shoot something in the mid-60s, I can get back in the tournament.''
That usually isn't a problem for Woods, although last week at Quail Hollow raised several questions about whether his head was in the game with so much going on in his personal life. Woods had his second-highest round (79) and the worst 36-hole score (153) of his career to miss the cut by eight shots.
Then came practice rounds that didn't look much better.
``I've felt like I've done some good work this week, even though reports are I was hitting all over the lot,'' Woods said. ``But I was working on a few things. I was very comfortable with what I was working toward, and I was very excited about what was happening. It was just a matter of doing it in competition. And I did it today.''
A few pars saved the day - one after a hooked tee shot into the trees, another when he fanned a shot to the right into the bunker on No. 4, then made an 8-foot par putt after hitting another bunker.
And nothing looked worse than a 3-wood that he popped up on No. 7, barely reaching the fairway and having to hit a 5-wood for his second shot on a par 4. He got up-and-down for par, and two holes later, gave a light but meaningful fist pump when he hit 5-wood to a tucked green on the par-5 ninth to 18 feet for a two-putt birdie.
He only hit one bad shot the rest of the round, but it led to a recovery shot that his caddie opposed.
Woods pulled his 5-wood on the short 12th hole smack into a sawgrass bush, the ball suspended a few inches off the ground. Steve Williams suggested that he declare an unplayable lie and take a penalty shot.
``That was a hit-and-hope,'' Woods said.
He went to another bush to simulate how the ball might come out. As he stood over the shot, Williams was still pointing to the grass behind him as a good place to drop. Woods ignored him, never taking his eyes off the shot.
``It was a very, very low percentage shot,'' Williams said. ``If he takes the drop, the worst he can make is 5. He could have hit it anywhere. He could have whiffed it. But he said, 'I think I can hit this.'''
Woods hit it to the front of the green, chipped to 5 feet and made his par. His only bogey came on the 18th, when his 5-wood had too much draw and took a hard hop left into the water. He turned and cursed twice, then began the long walk up the fairway to figure out where to drop. There went Woods' hope of breaking 70 in the opening round at Sawgrass for the first time in his career.
He was more bothered by missing so birdie chances - four putts inside 12 feet. Even so, Woods sounded much more optimistic after playing only his seventh round of competition since Nov. 15.
``It takes time to get into the rhythm of competing, and it takes tournaments,'' he said. ``And I haven't had a lot of tournaments under my belt.''
This was on a gentle course. Perhaps the most telling part of the round was the big numbers - or lack of them. Greg Owen hit two in the water on the 17th and made a quadruple-bogey 7 that ruined his round of 73, while the highest score was a 78 by Daniel Chopra.
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