- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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NORTON, Mass. -- The scene was very much like tens of thousands of others that unfold on the first tee box of golf courses all over the world every day. Three tall men in dark slacks, aged 31 to 44, exchanged the usual pleasantries before beginning their round at TPC-Boston on Friday. Play well. Have a good round. Good luck.
Of course, the greetings were the only things "usual" about this group. The men in question were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, three of golf's most iconic figures, a whopping 121 PGA Tour victories among them.
And there's history between them, too. Mickelson once suggested Woods was using inferior equipment; Singh accused Mickelson of damaging Augusta National's greens with his long metal spikes at the 2005 Masters; Woods was taunted by Singh's caddie, who wore a hat that read, "Tiger Who?" at the 2000 Presidents Cup.
What is the opposite of a love triangle anyway?
On this day, however, there were nothing but amiable salutations as the players looked like Three Amigos (uh, minus the costumes) prior to teeing off together in the opening round of the Deutsche Bank Championship for the first time ever in an official PGA Tour event.
If there was any palpable tension -- and trust us, there wasn't -- it melted away when a woman in the grandstand yelled, "I love you, Phil!" only to be followed moments later by a separate cry of, "I love you, Tiger!" -- accent on the "you."
From there, it was business as usual -- or at least it would have been had any of the players approached the form that helped all three reach such elite status in their profession.
How bad was it? There was the four-putt from Singh on the opening hole, where he needed four swipes of the flat stick from a mere 16 feet. It recalled memories of Seve Ballesteros, who once responded to a question about how he took four putts thusly: "I miss. I miss. I miss. I make."
There was the greenside bunker shot from Woods on the short par-4 fourth hole, which landed in the greenside bunker. After failing to find the green -- or anything green, really -- with his first attempt from the hazard, he found his ball nestled underneath the lip. Woods tried to power it out, but proved his own mortality, leaving the ball in the bunker a second time en route to a double-bogey.
"I was just trying to keep the ball on the green," Woods said of the initial bunker attempt. "I wasn't even trying to get cute with it. I said, 'Well, if I make a mistake, make this mistake long, hit the ball over the green, chip back and try and make par that way.' It just came out soft and buried under the lip."
There was the tee shot from Mickelson on the ninth hole, which cut too far to the left. (Gee, where have we seen that before?) He hit a provisional, but found his original ball in a staked-off "water hazard" (read: swamp) and took a mighty cut only to find himself about 10 yards farther down the left side of the hole. The next swing advanced him only a moderate distance after hitting a tree branch and remaining on the left. End result: triple-bogey.
"I certainly made a big mistake on 9," said Mickelson, who hit 10 of 14 fairways. "I hit my one real bad drive, and it was just a sloppy swing. I felt like there was so much fairway out there, I just didn't give it the attention it needed and I hit just a terrible shot and ended up making triple."
There were fanned iron shots. (Singh's effort off the tee on the par-3 11th hole was downright ugly.) There were short putts that went awry. (Mickelson missed from inside of 10 feet on Nos. 6 and 15.) There were slammed clubs. (Woods took a chunk out of a tee marker on the par-3 16th after pushing a 9-iron.)
Did we say Three Amigos? More like Three Blind Mice.
The final scores were hardly the stuff we've come to expect from these players, as Mickelson shot 1-under 70, Woods shot 72 and Singh shot 74, each a far cry from Camilo Villegas' tournament-leading 63.
"You would think we would have played a little better than we did," said Woods, who is defending champion at this event. "Phil got off to a great start, just had one bad hole but played well all day. Vijay kind of struggled all day. And I didn't make any putts for birdie. Collectively, I think we all felt like we left some shots out there."
Not that it was all bad news. On the fourth hole, from almost the very spot Woods made double, Mickelson holed out his bunker shot from 33 feet for eagle. Singh hit a brilliant approach shot to 3 feet on No. 13 that led to birdie. And after pulling 3-iron then deciding to hit 5-wood from 213 yards away in a fairway bunker on 18, Woods hit a huge cut to the back right of the green that resulted in par. ("That was the best shot I've ever seen," proclaimed one overzealous fan.)
As any playing partner worth having a beverage with at the 19th hole will inform time and again, it's those good shots that keep you coming back. In Saturday's second round, the trio will compete together once again, but don't expect three more scores that start with 7.
"Over the course of the next three rounds, I think all three of us will get that [low] round," Mickelson said after the first round. "It's certainly out there. We had a lot of low scores today and I thought that we hit enough good shots to have done that. But we didn't quite get anything out of it today. I think tomorrow is going to be a good day. I think we're going to have a good day."
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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