- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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DORAL, Fla. -- This was not exactly the same kind of front-row seat to history, the spine-tingling type of occurrence that he will take with him forever.
The first round on Thursday morning at Doral is not going to create the same kind of buzz as the third round in the afternoon at the U.S. Open.
Nonetheless, this was Sweden's Robert Karlsson's first time playing with Tiger Woods since that epic day, June 14, when Woods made a 1-under-par 70 at Torrey Pines look far more extraordinary than the scorecard could ever reveal.
"I've never seen anything like it," Karlsson recalled Thursday after the first round of the CA Championship, where he was playing with Woods and Mike Weir. "That back nine will be something I take with me for the rest of my life. I played well, but that was a fantastic afternoon. I never experienced anything like it."
Karlsson was shooting 75 that day, not that anyone really noticed. He recalled his caddie telling him never to hit a shot until everyone had settled down -- and it often took as long as three minutes for that type of calm to come over the course with all the hysteria surrounding Woods. He was a bit player in a bigger drama, one that saw Woods put himself in position for his third U.S. Open title and 14th major championship.
In case you forgot: Woods made two eagles in the last six holes, and also holed a chip shot for a birdie.
His eagle at the 18th that day in San Diego vaulted him into the lead, giving him a one-stroke advantage over Lee Westwood and two over Rocco Mediate. At the time, nobody knew the severity of Woods' leg issues, despite the fact that he had limped around Torrey Pines for most of the week.
It was only later that we learned he had two fractures in his left leg in addition to the ACL issues in his knee that required surgery and knocked him out of action until two weeks ago.
In a small bit of irony, Karlsson -- who finished tied for fourth at that U.S. Open and went on to capture the European Tour's Order of Merit, becoming the first Swede to do so -- ended up getting placed with Woods during his first stroke-play round since the playoff victory over Mediate. The atmosphere, obviously, was not quite the same.
"I don't think I have ever played with him when there has been so little interest in terms of crowd numbers and stuff like that," said Karlsson -- who then pointed out he had never been paired with Woods in the opening round of a tournament.
So, of course, it wasn't like the third round at Torrey Pines, but a majority of the spectators at Doral were following the threesome, lining the ropes along every fairway and crowding every green.
Unfortunately, they were not treated to the same fireworks going on elsewhere. Phil Mickelson chipped in three times on his way to a 7-under-par 65 that tied him for the lead with Retief Goosen, Jeev Milkha Singh and Prayad Marksaeng.
There were 26 players who shot in the 60s, including Henrik Stenson, who stripped down to his boxers to hit a shot out of the water.
Meanwhile, Woods, Karlsson and Weir combined to go 3 under par, each shooting 71. For Woods, it was a round of frustration, as he holed just one putt out of 11 from beyond 10 feet.
"He was a bit rusty, I would think," Karlsson said. "He hit a few indifferent shots. But he also hit a few really, really impressive drives. I've never seen him hit it that way before. If he puts it together, he's definitely not any worse than before. He's got shots I've never seen him hit before. He's definitely not lost anything."
Woods lamented the lack of putts that dropped. Although he had just 28 for his round, he hit only 11 of 18 greens in regulation and missed half the fairways.
Other than a stiffed 7-iron to a foot at the par-3 15th hole (his sixth), Woods didn't give himself a lot of close opportunities.
"If you go over the round, the putts I lipped out that's 4 or 5 under par right there, no problem," Woods said. "So I was very close to shooting that number, to only be two or three back. So it was not like I was playing poorly and shot 71. I played well and just didn't make any putts."
Still, he is six strokes back with 39 players between him and the lead. It is a lot of ground to make up on a Doral "Blue Monster" course that is anything but fearsome. Of the 80 players in the field, 53 broke par.
And it was just the eighth time in 25 rounds at Doral that Woods did not shoot in the 60s.
"If you want to be fair, I think you should give him some time," Karlsson said. "When he's back, it creates so much more interest. Obviously everybody wants him and expects him to play really well, and it's a big challenge for him to do it.
"I'm sure he's up to it. He would have never been able to take it to where he is if he didn't have the strength within himself. In a way, I think it's been a bit unfair to put so much pressure on him.
"Then again, I think he can handle it."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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