Phil Mickelson joked on Tuesday that he would be happy to fast-forward to a winner-takes-all duel against Tiger Woods in the final round of The Players Championship on Sunday.
As it stands after the first round at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. on Thursday, Mickelson will need a miracle just to play the weekend.
Paired together at The Players for the first time since 2011 as part of a heralded “super group” along with Rickie Fowler, Woods and Mickelson sprayed the ball all over the Pete Dye-designed course Thursday. But it was Woods who was able to scramble to stay within shouting distance while Mickelson imploded down the stretch.
Woods, 42, was 2 over when he eagled the par-5 ninth hole to make the turn at even-par 36. He hit only five fairways all day, but made par-saving putts at Nos. 10 and 14 and a bogey-saving putt on No. 18 after driving it into the water to post the best round of the group with an even-par 72.
“The way that I was feeling today, I should have shot something in the 60s,” Woods told the Golf Channel shortly after his round. “I didn’t do it. Felt like I had a real bad line on the tee box there (on 18), it was just an awful golf shot and I hit it straight left.”
Fowler was at even par before putting his tee shot in the water on the famed par-3 17th hole, the site of his heroics in winning the 2015 Players title. He wound up with a double bogey and a 2-over par 74 after saving par from the pine needles on 18.
Mickelson, 47, was 7-over on his final five holes in capping a disastrous 7-over 79 that was better than only two players in the 143-player field. His round could be summed up with the bogey he carded on No. 9 that included hitting his approach shot off a hospitality tent and across a cart path, chipping his third shot over the green and then scooping under his fourth shot before putting up onto the green.
The wheels really began to come off when he bladed his approach shot on No. 14, chunked the bunker shot coming back and then made the impetuous decision to putt over a drain. That led to the first of three double bogeys over a four-hole stretch, which included a second shot on No. 16 that never threatened to avoid the water before he joined Fowler in the water on 17.
“Pete does a great job of making you feel uncomfortable,” Woods said when asked about the mental challenge of playing TPC Sawgrass. “There’s trouble on every shot, and when you get it going around this course and you’re playing well, the golf course doesn’t seem very hard. But if you’re a little off, you get penalized pretty severely here.
“There’s a lot of water holes out there that could be had. There’s uncomfortable lies, really uneven lies, and some daunting pins.”
The trio will be paired again during the first wave on Friday. While Woods and Fowler battle to make the cut and hopefully play their way closer to contention, Mickelson will likely be relegated to enjoying the atmosphere and working out the kinks in his game.
Woods is tied for 69th, six shots off the lead, while Fowler is tied for 95th.
“They were into it, they were into it early,” Woods said of the crowd. “That front nine was pretty packed. The galleries weren’t quite as big at the end… I think they were a little tired from tipping back a couple, starting to get a little sleepy. Come tomorrow and the rest of the weekend, it will be another great atmosphere.”
–Field Level Media