Tiger 4 back but pleased after Round 1

Updated: May 7, 2010, 7:33 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods may not have finished the way he liked -- hitting his tee shot in the water at the 18th hole -- but the look and feel of his opening round at the Players Championship was far different from last Friday when he had one of his worst days as a professional.

Woods was unable to complete his round without a bogey, a feat he has never accomplished in 13 years at the TPC Stadium Course. Nor was he able to break 70, something he's never done in the opening round here.

But his 2-under-par 70, which left him four strokes back of first-round leaders Robert Allenby and J.B. Holmes, was a nice comeback after shooting 79 in the second round of the Quail Hollow Championship to miss the cut.

"Absolutely," Woods said when asked if it was important to get off to a good start after last week's disaster when he missed the cut by eight strokes. "This is a big event. This is a huge event.

"I've felt I've done some good work this week even though reports are I was hitting all over the lot. But I was working on a few things. I was very comfortable with what I was working towards, and I was very excited about what was happening. It was just a matter of doing it in competition, and I did it today."

Woods was referring to the chatter about him hitting five balls in the water during a 9-hole practice round on Tuesday.

Last week at Quail Hollow, Woods hit just six of 28 fairways and shot the second-highest score of his pro career during the second round. It was just his second tournament of the year after a nearly five-month absence but he had returned two weeks earlier and finished tied for fourth at the Masters.

Woods hit nine of 14 fairways Thursday and 14 of 18 greens. He needed 31 putts and said, "I didn't make any putts today at all. I only made three birdies today. I had myself in there on a few chances in there to make some putts, make some birdies and didn't really do it."

One of the fairways Woods hit came at the par-4 7th hole, where he popped up a 3-wood that went only 190 yards and barely got to the short grass. From there, he had over 240 yards to the pin and knocked a 5-wood over the green, but got it up and down for a par.

"I wanted to have a full 5-wood in there," Woods joked. "I wanted the angle."

His only bogey came at the par-4 18th, where he hooked a 5-wood off the tee that came up short in the water due to a wind gust. Although Woods showed some anger on the tee, he said "it wasn't a bad shot at all. The wind just got it."

The Players Championship is where Woods has had his least success of any tournament he has played at least 12 times. He has just four top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2001. After that win, he didn't place in the top 10 until last year, the longest such stretch in one tournament of his career.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who can overtake Woods for the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings this week if he wins and Woods finishes outside of the top 5, also opened with a 70.

"The reason I felt this was a good day for me was I just didn't have it," Mickelson said. "I let a lot of shots slide on the course today around the greens. Had a 6-iron and a couple of par-5s that I didn't take advantage of and made pars, and yet I was able to shoot a couple under par.

"So [Friday] if I can come out and get hot and shoot something in the mid-60s, I can get back in the tournament."

The 145-player field faced benign conditions that saw 85 players shoot under par. Woods and Mickelson were tied for 37th.

Masters runner-up Lee Westwood of England was among a large group tied for third, one stroke behind the leaders. Defending champion Henrik Stenson was in a group that included Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk who shot 69, three strokes back.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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