Commentary

Sobel's Players Championship Blog

Originally Published: May 7, 2009
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

7:30 p.m. ET: I've written this a million times before, so once more can't hurt: The leaderboard after Round 1 of a golf tournament is akin to an NBA score after the first quarter. Sure, you'd rather be leading than trailing, but either way, there's still three-quarters of the whole left to be played.

With that in mind, let's take a look at those on the Thursday night leaderboard with some stream-of-consciousness thoughts on everyone in the mix …

Ben Crane (7-under 65): With 22 putts, he might never roll it better than he did in Round 1 … players with hot flatsticks never go away easily.

John Mallinger (6-under 66): Has seen a fair amount of success in his three years on tour and knows what ultimate success might take this week. "I think it comes down to driving out here and putting, and those are kind of two of my strengths," he said, "so it's something I've worked on the last couple days."

Richard S. Johnson (6-under 66): Track record doesn't suggest he'll last on the leaderboard … owned just one round under par in three previous appearances here before this week.

Alex Cejka (5-under 67): Hasn't finished better than T-13 in 13 starts this season … finished T-12 here in 2005, though, on the strength of opening with three rounds of 70.

Jonathan Byrd (5-under 67): Oozing with confidence after a strong week at Quail Hollow … ballstriking was solid Thursday, with only three missed fairways and three missed greens.

Scott Verplank (5-under 67): Buoyed by an eagle from the fairway on the par-4 15th … short hitter would love for the course to play fast and firm for the next three days.

Retief Goosen (5-under 67): Beware of the Goose … very solid contender right now … has really come on strong recently, including a victory at the Transitions Championship.

David Toms (5-under 67): Put the tournament record in jeopardy at one point, getting things to 8-under with four to play … bogeys on three of his last four holes shows a failure to finish strong … contended for a title two weeks ago at the Zurich.

Ian Poulter (5-under 67): Could have posted the only bogey-free round of the day if not for one on the par-5 ninth … going to win one in the U.S. soon … could it finally be this week?

Brad Adamonis (5-under 67): Posted five birdies in his first 11 holes Thursday … biggest event of his two-year PGA Tour career.

Camilo Villegas (5-under 67): Shot of his round was a 35-foot par putt on No. 16 after hitting third into water … loves playing Florida golf … might make a serious run at this thing.

Bubba Watson (5-under 67): Averages about 316 yards per drive, but reached only 291.5 on Thursday … that ranked fourth in the field … hot start comes on the heels of contending at Quail Hollow last week.

Which of these players will still be in the mix at the midway point? Who will fall from the leaderboard?

I'll be blogging from The Players Championship once again in Round 2, beginning at 9 a.m. ET and throughout the entire day. Thanks for all of the e-mails in Round 1. See you right here on Friday. Until then, hit 'em straight …


5:57 p.m. ET: Phil Mickelson doesn't get it up and down on 16. That's a bogey, and he'll fall to 2-over with two to play.


5:47 p.m. ET: Phil Mickelson looked like he was on the verge of a solid round early on. He was 3-under through four holes, he was wearing a dark belt … what could go wrong?

Plenty.

Lefty has carded only one more birdie since that stretch to go along with five bogeys to drop to 1-over for the day. And he may have another coming up. Going for the par-5 16th in two, he just splashed down in the water. Will need to get up and down to save par.


5:21 p.m. ET: E-mail from Adam in Boston:

Come on, you HAVE to mention Spiderman (Hombre Araña). Since you are mentioning everyone else's putting on the heels of Tiger's lousy performance, how is Spiderman putting today?

It was less an oversight and more just a matter of, well, getting around to him. Villegas is currently 5-under with three to play, just 2 shots behind leader Ben Crane. His ball-striking has been very good -- 9 of 12 fairways, 12 of 15 greens -- but his putting is fairly mundane, with 23 total putts in 15 holes so far. His biggest putt of the day was a 35-foot bomb for par on the par-5 16th after hitting his third shot -- from just 39 yards away from the hole -- into the greenside water hazard.


5:12 p.m. ET: E-mail from Phil in Parts Unknown:

You taking the under of 15 in the water for the day on No. 17 is in jeopardy. The splash counter is up to 13 right now. Make that 14.

Oh no, my friend. Might want to read that 9:52 a.m. post once again. I didn't take the under; I merely set the line. Pretty good one, too, with about 10 groups left to play the hole.


5:09 p.m. ET: This one goes out to any of my media brethren around here who may be reading this right now: Twenty bucks if you approach Rory Sabbatini after his round of 81 or so (he's 8-over with four to play) and ask him about Ben Crane's round.

Crane is up 15 strokes on the guy who once raced ahead instead of playing the final few holes with his tortoise-like playing partner at the Kemper Open.

That's right -- 15, not 16, as he failed to get up and down from the greenside bunker on No. 8, dropping to 7-under.


4:59 p.m. ET: Tweet, Tweet …

sacsim@JasonSobel Where is the course giving up red numbers so far? Front 9, back 9? Any hot stretch where guys can make a move?

It's really pretty spread out. The back nine has both the toughest (Nos. 14 and 18) and easiest (No. 16) holes, while the front side is more balanced.

Overall, the scoring average on the front is 36.174 and on the back is 35.795. That's less than a half-stroke differential.


4:53 p.m. ET: Ring up another birdie for Ben Crane.

He drains a 12-footer on No. 7 to move to 8-under and extend his lead to 2 strokes. That's now 19 putts in 16 holes today. Just for comparison's sake, Tiger Woods' 19th putt came with his first of two strokes on his 11th hole.

Earlier today, I wrote about David Toms going after the all-time scoring record at the Players Championship held by Fred Couples and Greg Norman. Well, now Crane has it in his sights. If he plays the last two holes at 1-under for a 63, that would tie it; if he birdies in, the record is all his.


4:49 p.m. ET: The Angel Cabrera roller-coaster ride had slowed to a halt for a while there, as he followed seven opening holes without a par with five straight pars.

Well, he just cranked it back up again. The Masters champ makes birdie on No. 4 -- his 13th hole -- and gets it into red figures for the first time all day.


4:44 p.m. ET: E-mail from Anthony in Parts Unknown:

Can you mention Rory Sabbatini? He's at 7-over after 12 holes and I want to ensure he does not break 80.

Done and done.

In fact, Rory is battling to stay out of DFL (Dead Freakin' Last, of course) right now. He's tied for 141st place with Michael Bradley and since Michael Campbell and D.A. Weibring have already WD'd, only Steve Lowery (9-over 81) stands between Rory and DFL.


4:39 p.m. ET: After stiffing one to 7 feet on No. 6, Ben Crane fails to convert for a fifth straight birdie, posting just his third 2-putt of the round to remain at 7-under.

And here's something that should make Phil Mickelson happy: Holding up Crane's purple plaid pants today? A white belt, of course.


4:35 p.m. ET: Some highlights from Richard S. Johnson's post-round interview session with the media:

Q: When you have a day with scoring conditions like this and you do score, is it a sense of relief?
Richard S. Johnson: Absolutely. If you come out today and shoot even par, you wouldn't be that happy because most of the par-5s are reachable in two, and the course was just playing great. I mean, it was just a matter of putting yourself in the right spots and not hitting it crooked off the tee.

Q: You have a long ways to wait before you go out until the second round. What do you do until then?
Richard S. Johnson: Sleep. I've had a cold for the last two days, so I'm looking forward to coming into some air-conditioning here in a little bit.

Q: Was it very different because of the rain last night?
Richard S. Johnson: I didn't even know it rained. I mean, no. I'd say the course is still playing fairly firm, it's just the greens are kind of receptive in some areas. How the greens are set up on this course, on 4, for instance, you have a 10-by-15-foot span to land your ball on, and if you land it there you have a four-footer for birdie. But if you miss it you're likely to make bogey. If you're in the right position on this golf course, as the pins were today, you can get a lot of short putts because they were in like little swales and hollows today so you kind of shoot them in and use the banks to kind of get them close.

Q: Did you get mugged yesterday?
Richard S. Johnson: Mugged? No, not that I know of.

That's right -- Johnson was asked if he got mugged. Umm … I suppose that's a pertinent question. After all, if he had gotten mugged, well, how else would we have known? In fact, maybe we should ask every player that very same question after each round -- you know, just to make sure.


4:25 p.m. ET: As one fellow reporter just mentioned about the notoriously slow-playing Crane: "It's a good thing he made all those putts or else it would have taken another half-hour for him to line up all the comebackers."

That may be an exaggeration … but not by much.


4:22 p.m. ET: Based on the dreaded Blog Jinx, I half-expected Ben Crane to nine-putt his next hole.

Instead, he just knocked in a 30-footer for birdie on No. 5 -- his fourth in a row -- to take sole possession of the lead at 7-under.

That's 16 putts through 14 holes. Usually when you see that kind of stat, the guy is hitting about 15 percent of greens in regulation. Not Crane. He's 10-of-14 so far today.


4:12 p.m. ET: Ben Crane has joined leaders Richard S. Johnson, John Mallinger and Brad Admonish (kidding) at 6-under.

Crane has always been one of the game's best putters, but this is ridiculous. Through 13 holes today, here are the number of putts he's taken on each hole: 1-1-2-1-1-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1.

That's 15 putts through 13 holes. Wow.

It'll take something brilliant to match the PGA Tour single-round record of 18, however. That is currently shared by six players -- Sam Trahan, Kenny Knox, Mike McGee, Andy North, Jim McGovern and Corey Pavin.


3:56 p.m. ET: Brad Adamonis is now tied for the lead at 6-under with four holes to play.

Lead to this e-mail from Frank in Philadelphia:

About this Admonish guy … a pro's a pro. How is he striking it? Putting?

Ha! Love the fact that Frank used spellcheck on his e-mail. (I believe he also could have chosen "Adamant" as the proper spelling for his last name.)

As for his game … let's not admonish anyone for failing to pick Adamonis this week. Besides, I'm adamant that he won't remain on top of the leaderboard into the weekend.


3:42 p.m. ET: E-mail from Andrew in Parts Unknown:

BLOG JINX!!!!!!!! Michael Campbell just WD'd and Hunter Mahan just double-bogeyed. You are reaching historic proportions, sir.

Let the record show, that's two players who upon their first mention in the blog this week were so overcome by the jinx that they felt compelled to withdraw from the tourney. (D.A. Weibring was the other earlier today.)

As for Mahan, well, like I wrote earlier, since I picked him, he was really doomed from the start.


3:34 p.m. ET: E-mail from Rachel in San Jose:

I hate to interrupt the almost non-stop talk about Tiger and Phil, but I'm curious about Anthony Kim's day. He's already 3-over through 6. What happened?

AK started out par-birdie-birdie, then came up a few yards short of the green on the par-3 13th and rinsed it in the drink, making double. Next hole, he hit his tee shot right, his next shot righter and later three-putted for another double. And on 15, he three-putted from 12 feet, missing a 4-footer for par.

For the record, those of you complaining about too much Tiger and Phil in the blog should be sentenced to an entire day of reading through the inbox … the majority of which contains e-mails about Tiger and Phil! I'm just giving the people what they want. If a Brad Adamonis barrage takes place, I'll write more about him, too.


3:30 p.m. ET: I promise I didn't plan it this way, but just as that last entry was posted, Cabrera two-putts for par on the 17th hole -- his first par of the day.

BOR-ING!!!


3:27 p.m. ET: Speaking of crazy scorecards, let's check out Angel Cabrera: Triple-birdie-birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey-eagle. Add 'em up and that's even-par through seven holes.

As one of my wisecracking colleagues just said, "He needs to mix in a par … and a salad."

Hey, if you can win a super-sized green jacket while sticking to a diet of nine cheeseburgers -- that was his post-round victory meal on Sunday night at Augusta -- more power to ya.


3:21 p.m. ET: Raise your hand if you'd be disappointed with shooting a score of 45 for nine holes.

I'm guessing this includes a large number of you out there -- and Michael Campbell is no different.

The former U.S. Open champ has been dealing with a shoulder injury since last year and it's obviously still affecting him. Take a look at Cambo's card for his opening nine holes: 5-5-4-5-5-4-8-4-5. That's a 9-over 45 on the front side -- bogey golf.

At this point, he may just be trying to keep it on the happy side of 90.


3:05 p.m. ET: Shhhhhh. Be very, very quiet. Don't want to put the Blog Jinx on Hunter Mahan.

Actually, he was my pick to win entering the week. So if Mahan isn't already jinxed, I don't know what would do it to him.

Mahan is currently 3-under through eight holes, having just made a par on No. 17. Nice to have a dog in the hunt.


2:55 p.m. ET: E-mail from Gary in Wisconsin:

Please stop talking about Phil. BOGEY. You jinxed Toms. Now Phil? My fantasy team stands no chance.

Interesting theory. Choose the game's No. 2-ranked player for your fantasy team, knowing full well that he'll be mentioned in this blog. Then when he makes bogey, blame the jinx rather than yourself for the selection. Very crafty.

It's true, though: After hitting an approach that was just over the lip of the greenside bunker on No. 6, Mickelson knocked one on the green and missed the putt, making bogey. He's now at 2-under.


2:44 p.m. ET: Defending champion Sergio Garcia posted a 1-under 71 today, but listening to him after the round, it sounded like he fared about 10 shots worse …

"I was hitting the ball very poorly. … I know when I'm swinging well and when I'm not. … I think it's been awhile since I hit the ball that badly. But, I don't know, I'll find a way."

How bad was it? Sergio hit exactly half of the fairways and half of the greens in regulation.

For a guy who can't exactly rely on his short game to bail him out, he needs to find his swing soon if he is going to contend this week.


2:35 p.m. ET: Dark belt = good score.

After an opening par, Phil Mickelson birdied Nos. 2, 3 and 4 to move to 3-under. He just added a par at the fifth and is currently three strokes off the lead.

As we've seen throughout the day, those who score well are doing so because of the flatstick. Mickelson has one-putted four of the five greens so far -- and his lone two-putt still resulted in birdie on the par-5 second.


2:26 p.m. ET: Tweet, Tweet …

owam@JasonSobel: GOO! In the Masters rematch, Perry bogeys his first of the day and Cabrera triples! Nervous about being paired again?

You know KP must be out there thinking, "So now this guy makes triple? Great." Good comeback for Cabrera, though, as he's gone triple-birdie-birdie-birdie to get things back to even. Perry has followed with three straight pars. GOO!

jryananderson@JasonSobel: What does Phil have to finish to take over #1 from Tiger?

Mickelson would need to win and Woods would have to finish worse than fourth.

shanettucker@JasonSobel: Haikus are easy But sometimes they don't make sense Refrigerator.

True that.


2:21 p.m. ET: Of the 78 players in the afternoon wave, your leader so far is … Brad Adamonis.

Also the first player listed on tour alphabetically, Adamonis has been mired in a pretty mediocre sophomore season so far. After opening with a T-9 at the Bob Hope Classic, he hasn't finished better than 32nd in 11 appearances and withdrew from last week's Quail Hollow Championship.

Starting on the back nine, he's currently 4-under through eight holes, hitting every fairway so far and needing just nine total putts.


2:04 p.m. ET: E-mail from Jesse in Parts Unknown:

The Blog Jinx strikes again. Toms promptly bogeys three of the next four holes after you commented on his round. Nicely done.

I don't know if that was the Blog Jinx … or just Toms realizing where he was.

In 46 previous career rounds here at TPC-Sawgrass, he had posted only three rounds in the 60s. He certainly would have taken 67 when he woke up this morning, but at 8-under with four to play, the finish has gotta be more than a little disappointing.


1:52 p.m. ET: Just wanted to summarize Tiger Woods' putting performance in what will likely be the last time I discuss his round today. Here were the results of his first putt on all 18 holes today:

• No. 10: Missed 11-foot birdie putt
• No. 11: Missed 9-foot birdie putt
• No. 12: Missed 12-foot birdie putt
• No. 13: Missed 9-foot birdie putt
• No. 14: Missed 37-foot par putt
• No. 15: Missed 17-foot birdie putt
• No. 16: Made 3-foot eagle putt
• No. 17: Missed 9-foot birdie putt
• No. 18: Made 1-foot par putt
• No. 1: Missed 42-foot birdie putt
• No. 2: Missed 34-foot eagle putt
• No. 3: Missed 32-foot birdie putt
• No. 4: Missed 8-foot birdie putt
• No. 5: Made 11-inch par putt
• No. 6: Missed 10-foot par putt
• No. 7: Missed 8-foot birdie putt
• No. 8: Missed 26-foot par putt
• No. 9: Made 3-foot birdie putt

In all, that's eight missed putts from inside 12 feet. And he wasn't happy about it.

Here's what Woods had to say after the round:

Question: Is this sort of like how your year has been going, what today was like?
Tiger Woods: Yeah, I hit it right there the first four holes right out of the gate, inside 15 feet on all four of them, and didn't make any of them. No, I hung in there, and unfortunately just didn't make enough putts today. I was in position all day to make putts and just didn't do it.

Q: Is a day like today frustrating, disappointing?
TW: Both. I hit the ball well enough to … this is probably the highest score I could have shot today, and I didn't get a whole lot out of my round today. That's the way it goes.

Q: What was with the putter?
TW: I didn't hit good putts. My speed was off early, then I got my speed down at the end and I kept lipping out putts. I just need to obviously read them better or hit better putts, one of the two.


1:39 p.m. ET: Looks like No. 17 is toughening up. By my count, five tee shots (those of Stewart Cink, Charlie Wi, Woody Austin, Daniel Chopra and Steve Lowery) have found the water as the scoring average has risen to over par for the round at 3.079.

Of course, one man can take significant credit for doing his part to increase that number.

Lowery knocked one into the drink, then followed by … knocking another into the drink. For good measure, he bladed one over the green and into the hill and later three-putted, taking a quintuple-bogey snowman on the hole.

That's still 4 strokes better than Bob Tway back in 2005, who put four in the water en route to a 12.


1:29 p.m. ET: E-mail from Ty in Madison, Wis.:

Looks like Phil is sporting a black belt. Your thoughts on what he can shoot today? Does he know about his "white-belt stats"?

As first reported in the Weekly 18, based on research by reader David Axelson of Atlanta, there is a huge discrepency between Mickelson's scoring average when he wears a dark belt and a white belt.

Here are the numbers for his 27 stroke-play rounds so far this year:

Dark belt:
• 21 rounds
• 14 rounds under par
• Scoring average of -2.238 in relation to par

White belt:
• 6 rounds
• 1 round under par
• Scoring average of +2.000 in relation to par

That's right -- Lefty is scoring 4.238 shots worse per round while wearing the white belt, not to mention the fact that he lost in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship while wearing one.

He was asked about it this week and told Steve Elling of CBSSports.com: "Yeah, I know it's not too good. But it's not going to stop me from wearing it. I look too good in it."

I guess that means we can expect to see him wearing it again this week -- and maybe posting another 76, too.


1:20 p.m. ET: Plenty of big-timers in the two 1:20 p.m. tee times. Starting on the first tee is the group of Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson. And on No. 10 is Angel Cabrera, Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk.

Leads to this e-mail from Max in Hazard, Ky.:

What are the chances Kenny Perry saw his group included Angel Cabrera and thought, "I'm a nice guy and all, but dammit, I have feelings, too!" Is it too soon to intentionally group these two players? Was Chad Campbell not available to round out the group? There should be at least a one-major buffer before these two have to play together. If the results put them together for the weekend, fine … but this is too soon for me.

Hmmm … interesting that the PGA Tour's "random" computer-generated tee times spit out the last two men standing from the Masters in the same group for two days, huh? And you're right -- why not just throw Campbell in there for fun, too? Maybe Cabrera could wear his green jacket for the round and we could see how long it takes until one of the other guys starts crying.

Honestly, though, I don't have a problem with the grouping, but when things like this happen -- not to mention Tiger and Phil always playing on opposite sides of the draw -- don't keep telling us the tee times are generated randomly.


1:17 p.m. ET: Tiger Woods cleans up a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth hole to close out what's going to wind up looking like a fairly benign round of 1-under 71.

There are times when TW can turn a 75 into a 71. Well, today he turned a 65 into a 71.

Could have been much, much better, but at 5 off the lead right now, he's still very much in the hunt.


1:09 p.m. ET: Some post-round quotes from players on the leaderboard who are already in the clubhouse.

John Mallinger carded only one bogey and is now tied for the lead at 6-under …

Q: Just a couple highlights of the round, the day and so forth.
John Mallinger: I started off well. I got off to a good start. I birdied No. 2 and I birdied 4, just hit really good shots. I had a game plan going in, going from A to B, and it's one of those golf courses where you just kind of have to plot yourself around. You see someone like Fred Funk that wins, and I kind of look at myself as a player like that, someone who just hits it here, hits it there and tries to make as many putts as I can. That's kind of what I did today. I didn't just miss many shots. I had a 3-putt and that was my bogey. Other than that, I putted pretty much as good as I could.

Jeev Milkha Singh is the low Singh so far, shooting a 4-under 68 (Vijay is still on the course at even-par) …

Q: When you got here, was this a course you thought immediately would suit your game?
Jeev Milkha Singh: It's an excellent golf course. You know, it just felt good to the eye, and I liked it, the way it's set up. I'm hitting the ball well, and I think it ultimately will come down to how you roll the ball. I made a few good putts today.

Also at 4-under is John Rollins …

Q: Can you just talk a little bit about the day and the golf course, how it's playing, how you feel you're doing out there?
John Rollins: Well, I feel good. 68 around here is a good score any day. The wind is not too much of a factor out there right now. The greens are fairly receptive. I think that's part of the reason that the scores are probably as low as they are. But overall with the day I'm very pleased with the way I hit it and what I got out of it.


1:02 p.m. ET: E-mail from Trey in Las Cruces, N.M.:

Can we lay off Tiger? He's come off a huge knee injury. Oh, and he's already won at Bay Hill.

In a word … no.

As long as Woods is competing and continues to maintain he's fully recovered from last season's knee surgery, we should hold him to the same standard as always. And I don't see why winning at Bay Hill should let him off the hook from the fact that he's missed a ton of makeable mid-range putts today.

If TW was limping down the fairway and wasn't hitting the ball well yet still wanted to gut it out, we could lay off. But when he's healthy and just missing an insane amount of putts? He's ripe for any criticism that comes his way.


12:58 p.m. ET: Another bogey for Tiger on No. 8.

Hit his tee shot into the front right bunker, pitched out to 27 feet short of the hole, then hit a very good putt that barely missed by less than a foot. Tapped in for bogey and he drops to even-par for the round.


12:45 p.m. ET: That news leads to this e-mail from Tim in D.C.:

With Tiger's putting killing him the past month or so, do you see a change in putters coming if this persists?

Nooooo. Definitely not. He's been using the same flatstick since 1998 (I believe) and while it's often been a love-hate relationship, there's more love than hate. Woods is a creature of habit, so don't expect him to be on the practice green trying out belly putters any time soon.

Another e-mail, from Christopher in Daytona Beach, Fla.:

It seems that since Tiger's return his game has been far from what we've come to expect from him. Even at the Masters, the final few holes on Sunday were nothing like the pre-knee surgery Tiger. Watching him play do you think his problems are mental or is it a physical problem?

Great question -- and not sure it's one that can be easily answered. Putting is always a mental pursuit (as are so many other aspects of this game), but I'm guessing Tiger doesn't see it that way.

In fact, I'd be willing to bet that after the round, we'll hear some variation of the following quote from him: "I was rolling it beautifully, hitting it just the way I wanted to, but nothing was dropping for me. I can't even tell you how many times I burned the edge today. It's frustrating, but you just work at it, come back tomorrow and hope they started falling for you."

That's Tiger Woods for you. When he plays well, he doesn't give himself too much credit and when he plays poorly, he doesn't shoulder too much of the blame.


12:41 p.m. ET: Another miss for Tiger.

From 8 feet away, he pushes it 2 feet past the hole. Again.

Recurring theme of the day is Woods' poor putting. Dude could be 8- or 9-under if he was making these mid-range putts; instead, he hasn't made any of 'em.

While his ball-striking has looked solid -- 9 of 13 fairways hit, 11 of 16 greens in regulation -- it's the flatstick that has really been his bugaboo today.


12:36 p.m. ET: Either a great approach shot for Tiger Woods on No. 7 or an awful one, depending on how you look at it.

Woods stiffs one to 8 feet, which ordinarily wouldn't be a bad thing. But that's right in his "miss range" today. He's been missing from 8-12 feet throughout the entire round. Let's see if he can finally get one to drop …


12:28 p.m. ET: The bad news for Tiger Woods? He just missed another 9-foot putt.

The worse news? This one wasn't for birdie.

Sitting 163 yards out in the middle of the fairway on No. 6, Tiger missed the green short left, chipped on to 9 feet and missed the putt, racing it a few feet past the hole.

That's a bogey for Woods -- his second of the day -- and he drops to 1-under.


12:22 p.m. ET: David Toms is en fuego.

With birdies on eight of his last 11 holes, Toms is now 8-under for the round with four to play. Not bad for a guy who wasn't even in the field until about 10 days ago.

In case you're wondering, the single-round tournament record is 9-under 63, first shot by Fred Couples in the third round in 1992 and equaled by Greg Norman in the opening round two years later.

If Toms can play the final four in 1-under, he'll also equal that mark. If he can play 'em in 2-under or better, the record is all his.


12:09 p.m. ET: E-mail from Phil in the Cayman Islands:

ESPN just posted story that Manny Ramirez has tested positive for PEDs and will be suspended for 50 games. Can't even imagine how much this story is going to grow, but just wondering what you think would happen if one of the top golfers tested positive? Has the PGA Tour instituted a drug policy yet? Any thoughts?

The drug policy was instituted last year and so far, no one has come up positive. (And yes, positive results will be released to the public.) If it did happen in golf, I think the newsworthiness of the story would be based on the level of the player involved. If an elite household-name type of guy tested positive, it would be major news. If it was someone lower down on the totem pole, obviously it would be a smaller story.

Also, the first time it happens will be bigger news just due to the fact that no player has ever tested positive before.

All of that said, I have no reason to believe this will ever become an epidemic in golf the way it's become in baseball. The sport's governing bodies were smart to start testing before it became a problem rather than after the fact.


12:04 p.m. ET: E-mail from Dan in Pennsylvania:

Did Tiger just miss an 8-foot birdie on the fourth hole?

No, no, no. Of course not.

It was a 9-footer.

Granted, the putt was from the fringe -- so it didn't count as an official putt in the stats -- but that's yet another missed opportunity for Woods. Even so, he remains at 2-under, in a share of 14th place, 5 shots behind sole leader David Toms.


11:58 a.m. ET: In advance of the opening round of the Players, Phil Mickelson spent yesterday working on his game … with Tim Tebow.

Mickelson played nearby private club Timuquana CC with the University of Florida quarterback. While I don't have results of their match, a source has confirmed there was another contest between the two while out on the course.

On the 18th fairway, Mickelson and Tebow pulled out a football and decided to have a longest-pass contest -- with one caveat. Mickelson would be throwing while standing up. Tebow would be on his knees. (Insert joke here.)

And the winner? "It wasn't even close," the source told me. Tebow on his knees went way deeper than Mickelson standing up.


11:45 a.m. ET: There was just a news conference here at the course.

According to a press release …

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Sang Chun, president, SBS International, a division of Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), today announced a 10-year agreement whereby SBS becomes the title sponsor of the tour's season-opening tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii, from 2010 through 2019.

Limited to winners from the previous PGA Tour season, the tournament will be renamed the SBS Championship. SBS replaces Mercedes-Benz, whose sponsorship agreement was to run through 2010 at the Plantation Course at Kapalua.

Good news for the tournament and the PGA Tour, because, well, any time a sponsor signs up for a 10-year contact in these economic times, it's good news.

It was rumored that the season opener may be coming back to the mainland, though, and that may still be in jeopardy. The deal with Kapalua only runs through next year.


11:36 a.m. ET: After making birdie on the par-5 second to move to 2-under, Tiger Woods just made par on the third hole.

Breaking news just into the blog: Sources close to me have confirmed that on the third hole, Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, pulled a plastic bag out of the golf bag that contained some sort of sandwich. Williams split the sandwich with Woods and they each ate half. Tiger may or may not have washed it down with some Tiger-flavored Gatorade.

I'll have more on this developing story as the day continues.

(And yeah, I know it's not really "Tiger-flavored Gatorade," but you know what I mean.)


11:31 a.m. ET: Make that five birdies on 17.

E-mail from John in Parts Unknown:

You almost lost that bet on the ace before noon. Nicholas Thompson just hit to within 4 inches.

Whoa, make it six now. Soren Kjeldsen knocks one to 6 feet and makes the putt, too. With no wind, expect more birdies and fewer bogeys as the round continues.


11:27 a.m. ET: The most exciting hole in golf? Zzzzzzz.

With a back pin position on 17, the hole is playing as an absolute snoozer so far.

Through 11 groups, it's playing to a scoring average of 2.969 with four birdies, 25 pars and three bogeys.

The birdies have come from Bo Van Pelt (7 feet), Ernie Els (16 feet), David Toms (20 feet) and Billy Mayfair (47 feet).

Charlie Wi remains the only player to find the drink, meaning the under (of 15) is looking like a pretty good call so far on the prop bet.


11:20 a.m. ET: Maybe the S stands for Splash.

Richard S. Johnson rinses one on No. 2 and makes bogey to drop to 4-under.

Sorry about the Blog Jinx, dude.

Scott Verplank and David Toms are now your co-leaders at 5-under. Verplank's card is crazy so far: Two eagles, three birdies, four pars and two bogeys through 11 holes. That's some Camilo Villegas-type stuff right there; for a Steady Eddie kind of guy like Verplank, that's pretty surprising.


11:11 a.m. ET: Tweet, Tweet …

TB80@JasonSobel So is Tiger burning edges on these missed putts or is he putting like, say Sergio?

Like who? Might want to check that reference again.

Woods needed 16 putts in an opening-nine 35, while defending champ Sergio Garcia used just a dozen putts over the same span, making the turn in two strokes better at 3-under so far.

For some reason, Garcia likes these greens here more than any other course we see during the year. Here's what I wrote about him in my pre-tourney ranking:

Check his recent results -- no results of better than T-13 in a half-dozen PGA Tour starts this season -- and it doesn't appear the defending champion is on the verge of contending this week. Then again, last year he hadn't fared better than T-15 prior to defeating Paul Goydos in a Players playoff.

Sergio is sort of the antithesis of most golfers on tour. A lot of guys get hot for a while and stay hot, then go cold. It's always cyclical. Garcia, though, is more unpredictable, playing well without ever showing prior signs of busting out.


10:56 a.m. ET: The current leader is … Johnson.

This year's Sony Open champion Zach Johnson? Nope.

This year's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am champion Dustin Johnson? Uh-uh.

No, the guy on top of the leaderboard is none other than 5-foot-7, 145-pound Richard S. Johnson from Sweden.

Can't believe I didn't see this one coming. Johnson's last six starts: MC, MC, T-66, T-33, MC, WD.

And yet, after playing the course's back nine in 4-under 32, he's posted a birdie on No. 1 to move to 5-under, one shot clear of Nick O'Hern, John Mallinger and David Toms.


10:51 a.m. ET: E-mail from Nic in Parts Unknown:

That's a Blog Jinx if I've ever seen one. D.A. Weibring withdrew after you mentioned him.

Wow, didn't mean to make the guy WD. Oops.

Which means now the D.A. stands for …

According to one of my cohorts here at the course: "Dumba--, for even trying to play here."

Ouch, that was a little harsh.


10:38 a.m. ET: At nearly 56 years old, defending Senior Players winner D.A. Weibring is the oldest man in the field. And it shows on his scorecard.

So far today, Weibring has posted scores of 7-5-5-5-5-5. Playing the back nine first, he's 8-over through six holes and still has some water to contend with before making the turn, meaning there's a legitimate chance he may not break 50.

Apparently, D.A. must stand for Don't Ask.


10:27 a.m. ET: After that last post, I'm pretty sure everything else will pale in comparison. So let's just talk Tiger instead.

Great shot by Woods on 17 to 9 feet, but -- you're not gonna believe this -- he missed the putt.

Other than his eagle on 16, that's seven two-putts for TW, including five birdie attempts of 15 feet or less.

At 1-under, it's still a solid round so far. Could be much, much better, though.


10:21 a.m. ET: Over the years, this blog has included its fair share of haikus, limericks and other random musings. Never before, though, have I seen anything like this from Craig in Parts Unknown:

Where you at? The Biz about to start
Load up the bag, get in the cart
It's TPC -- don't act so strange
Get your @$$ out on that range
Hittin' fairways that's what we do
Go for an eagle on No. 2
2, 4, 6, 8 under par
Where's John Daly? "He's at the bar"
Who's that dunkin' his Oreo?
That's defending champ mister Sergio
What's it gonna take to win this thing?
Lots of birdie putts will have to sink
This is a tourney Tiger's never won
What you talkin 'bout, Willis? What about 2001?
Just as Miley Cyrus is a Tween
Balls will hit the water on 17
One things for sure, mad props to Sobel
Bringin' updates from Florida to global
How come he gets the best job on earth?
Has he really been that special since birth?
Either Sobel writes about the crowds that groan
Or answers questions from those parts unknown
Sunrise to sunset he doesn't rest
Sobel's blog really is the best

Love it, especially the whole ending part, where Craig does his best suck-up attempt for no real reason.

If someone can put Craig's words to a beat, maybe get a few backup singers, well … let's just say there would be a very good chance I'd link to this every five minutes for the next four days.


10:13 a.m. ET: E-mail from Ryan in Minneapolis:

I hope you don't think I am weird or something, but I always wondered what Sawgrass smells like. I think all courses have a unique smell to them. Like how Pebble smells like the sea and Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisc., smells like cheese.

It smells like desperation and fear … but then again, that may just be because I'm currently surrounded by golf writers in the media center.

In all seriousness, though, yeah -- you're weird. It smells like grass.


10:10 a.m. ET: Did I say six strokes back? I meant four.

Just like that, Tiger is in red numbers for the first time all day. After a 318-yard drive into the fairway on No. 16, he hit his second shot to 3 feet and -- yes -- made the eagle putt to go from 1-over to 1-under in a hurry.

Considering that opening six-hole stretch, this one has to feel like a weight lifted from his shoulders. Remains to be seen whether it will lead to bigger and better things …


10:04 a.m. ET: First haiku of the week (though I'm not sure that's a good thing) comes from Conor in Parts Unknown:

Tiger is steaming
The putts just won't fall right now
He thinking too much?

Another fairway and green for TW on 15, another par.

At least he can (sort of) take heart in the fact that his birdie attempt was from 21 feet, meaning he didn't exactly give one away this time.

Nearly two hours after he teed off, Woods is six shots behind the leader, as Scott Verplank is now 5-under through seven holes.


9:52 a.m. ET: E-mail from Dan in Boston:

Natural prop bet: How many balls will be rinsed on 17 today? Charlie Wi just broke the seal.

Annually, 120,000 balls find the wet stuff at 17 each year, but with little wind today, it's not much more than a wedge or 9-iron for the pros.

I'll set the over/under at 15. You keep the tally.


9:48 a.m. ET: Tiger's slow start may be a bit understandable considering he's probably getting seasick from watching playing partner Ernie Els.

The enigma that is the Big Easy lives on here at Sawgrass. In his first five holes, Els has gone bogey-par-birdie-birdie-double.

That 14th hole is playing as the most difficult on the course so far. Averaging 4.429 through seven groups, only leader Scott Verplank and Johnson Wagner, who is T-2, have made birdies so far.


9:44 a.m. ET: Verplank. Kerplunk.

Scott Verplank just drained a 141-yard approach shot for eagle from the 15th fairway to move to 4-under, one shot clear of a half-dozen players, including defending champ Sergio Garcia, who has made birdie on three of his first four holes.


9:39 a.m. ET: Tiger Woods reached the green in regulation on each of the first four holes, only to miss the birdie putt.

He would have loved to have done that on 14.

Instead, Woods hit a drive so far right that it landed off the screen on the ShotLink map of the hole, followed by hitting his second shot left of the bunker into what the computer has termed the "native area," then chipped on and two-putted for bogey. He's now 1-over for the round.


9:34 a.m. ET: E-mail from Mike in Parts Unknown:

Thanks for keeping me entertained today while I am stuck at school. Today's my

birthday. I would love it if I could make the blog.

Oh, well in that case …

No.

By the way, more than 90 minutes of blogging so far and not a single haiku, limerick or golf-themed rap song from the readers. I'm not sure whether I should be proud or angry. But I have a feeling this streak could end very, very soon …


9:30 a.m. ET: Tweet, Tweet …

Dimonator@JasonSobel Mahan is 4 hours away from teeing off. Are you nervous yet?

Me? No. Knowing my track record for picking these things, though, I think he's the one who should be nervous.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out my pre-tourney ranking of the top 25, which should pretty much serve as a jinx to every single player mentioned.


9:24 a.m. ET: Another hole, another missed birdie putt for Tiger Woods.

Stop me if you've heard this one before …

After knocking his tee shot on the par-3 13th to 9 feet, Woods misses the putt.

That makes a fourth consecutive birdie putt of 15 feet or less and a fourth consecutive par. You don't need to be watching TV coverage to know there's steam coming out of his ears right now.


9:18 a.m. ET: Spoke too soon.

John Mallinger posts birdie on No. 7 and takes sole possession of the lead at 3-under.

Like Paul Goydos, last year's runner-up, Mallinger is a Long Beach, Calif., guy. In fact, he shares the same instructor as Goydos and plays a good deal of practice rounds with him out there. Gotta wonder if he picked the veteran's brain and got some inside knowledge coming into this week.


9:16 a.m. ET: How good are scoring conditions right now?

Here's one way to tell: There are currently 24 players under par and 21 over par.

Those under par include 10 guys at 2-under, though none have broken through to 3-under so far.


8:57 a.m. ET: E-mail from Adam in Parts Unknown, entitled, "Tiger: A new strategy":

Why not pound a long iron off of every tee -- sacrificing distance, but giving himself a better chance to play from the fairway all day?

The course is simply too long to do that. While it is playing fast and firm, his distance off the tee is still a major advantage. As he's shown for years since working with Hank Haney, Tiger would rather be 20 yards longer and in the rough than shorter and in the fairway. With negligible rough this week, there's no point in straying from that strategy.

Woods missed the fairway to the right on 12 -- not by much, though -- then knocked one to 12 feet and, again, missed the birdie putt. That's misses of 15, 9 and 12 feet so far -- a lot of missed opportunities.


8:48 a.m. ET: First Tweet of the week …

TB80@JasonSobel with his great long iron play, could tiger leave the driver in the bag, go only 3 wood to eliminate "2 way miss" you mentioned?

Sure, but that's not necessarily a foolproof plan, either. We saw Woods hit mostly 3-wood off the tee at Quail Hollow last week -- and still only hit just a little over half of the fairways. Right now, Tiger supporters should be more concerned with his putting. After laying up from 264 yards on the par-5 11th, he hit his third shot to 9 feet, then knocked his birdie attempt 3 feet past the hole, settling for another par.

Might be time to break out that declining par-5 birdie percentage statistic on Woods that we discussed during the Masters.


8:42 a.m. ET: With near-perfect conditions and a course that should yield some red numbers, expect some very good scores this week.

Already eight players -- Martin Laird, Ryan Moore, Nick O'Hern, John Mallinger, John Rollins, Jonathan Byrd, Henrik Stenson and Justin Leonard -- are 2-under for the day.

The low 72-hole score of 24-under 264 set by Greg Norman in 1994 might not be in jeopardy, but it could certainly take a number like 18- or even 20-under to take the title this week.


8:34 a.m. ET: The Woods/Els/Leonard group posted a birdie, a par and a bogey on the first hole -- No. 10 on the course.

That would be birdie for Leonard, par for Woods and bogey for Els.

Routine par for TW, too; he drove down the left side of the fairway, hit the green in regulation and two-putted. Looks like his drive on No. 11 found the short stuff, too -- about 300 yards down the right side. Good sign for Tiger in the early going.


8:27 a.m. ET: First prop bet of the day comes from Stephen in Kentucky:

I'm calling an ace on 17 by noon. Somebody will be buying some cocktails early today.

I'll take that bet and the only one buying will be you, Stephen.

In 27 years of this tourney being contested here at TPC Sawgrass, there have been exactly six aces. They include: Brad Fabel (1986, first round), Brian Claar (1991, third round), Fred Couples (1997, fourth round), Joey Sindelar (1999, first round), Paul Azinger (2000, third round) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (2002, first round).


8:19 a.m. ET: If the tournament ended right now …

A whole lot of players would be pissed off about not getting a chance to tee it up.

Oh, and Nick O'Hern and Martin Laird would be headed to a two-man playoff. Each player is 2-under through three holes. Eleven others are also in red figures, one shot further back.


8:10 a.m. ET: Now teeing off in the 8:10 tee time … 2001 champion Tiger Woods.

Ever since holing that "better than most" putt in Round 3 of that year, Woods hasn't quite enjoyed similar success. In six starts since then, he hasn't finished better than T-11; last year, he missed the event due to his knee injury.

I dined with a fellow reporter last night who had followed Tiger throughout his Wednesday practice round with Jim Furyk and Nick Watney and asked him for a spy report from the course. His succinct assessment:

"He hit it like [poop]."

Uh, except he didn't actually say "poop." Hence the brackets.

Seems TW had a two-way miss going yesterday, pushing his 3-wood, pulling his driver. Sounds like a continuation of last week at Quail Hollow, where despite looking good with his irons, both his long game and short game were suffering -- sort of like a sandwich of really good deli meat on moldy bread.

Definitely worth watching as Woods plays his morning round with Justin Leonard and Ernie Els today.


8:06 a.m. ET: Perfect day, weather-wise, so far.

I'm guessing it's about 75 degrees right now with a slight 5-10 mph breeze trickling through the course.

Last night, there was about a 30- to 45-minute heavy rain in the area, but TPC Sawgrass features one of those underground moisture-sucker deals that should keep the course playing fast and firm throughout.

Some more late-afternoon thunderstorms are possible, but that's the only potential blemish for the next four days, during which the highs should reach the upper 80s and maybe even 90.


8 a.m. ET: Good morning, golf fans, and welcome to TPC Sawgrass, site of the Players Championship, which has just officially gotten under way.

I'd like to kick off this week's edition of the blog with a quick rant …

This tournament is "major" in almost every sense of the word. It owns the best field of any event on the schedule. That's major. It's contested annually on a world-class golf course. That's major, too. And it boasts a terrific champions list that includes each of the current three top-ranked players in the world since 2001. Again, major.

But …

It's not a major championship. It's not the fifth major. And it's never gonna be.

Take nothing away from this tourney, which has been endlessly praised from seemingly every player in the field, but these lines were drawn in the sand long ago and it will take more than a high tide to wash it away and start anew.

The biggest problem with such reformation, of course, is that there's no singular governing body or individual charged with making these decisions. It's not like the PGA Tour or Tim Finchem or, certainly, Tiger Woods can snap their fingers and make it happen.

And you know what? It doesn't matter. This may not be a major championship, but it is major -- and that should be enough to get you pretty fired up for what should be an entertaining week.

As always, I'll be here throughout the entire round blogging from the course. Send your questions, comments, suggestions, concerns, complaints, threats and anything else to PlayersBlog@gmail.com or Tweet me up at JasonSobel on Twitter.

Let's watch some golf …

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.