PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods’ neck appears to be just fine. At least judging by his approach to his TPC Sawgrass bugaboo, the par-4 14th, where, after blowing his drive so far right that it nearly landed on the 12th hole, he ripped one out the rough with the speed of an Acela train. He made bogey but left with his body fully intact.
“I’m all good with that,” he said of the strained neck that forced him to withdraw from last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and had the golf world momentarily holding its collective breath as he tore into the rye overseed in the opening round of the Players Championship.
His putting was pretty good, too. Mostly, anyway, en route to an opening-round 70 that left him in shouting distance of the lead.
After a ho-hum front nine in which he made just one bogey but also only one birdie, Woods strapped in for the roller coaster coming in. His final nine holes featured one measly par (on 15, for those who care), compared to five birdies and four bogeys.
Among the red numbers were a 17-footer on 10, an easy one from inside three feet on 12, a 28-footer on 13, a smooth five-footer on 16 and a 13-footer on the par-3 17th, where his tee shot barely cleared the water before leaving him an uphill roll to the front pin.
“I felt like I rolled it today,” Woods said. “I felt like I was able to get up there, and I felt comfortable. I was able to rip it, and I felt pretty good.
“It wasn’t like I had to do a lot. I just got back into something that I do naturally. I putt with the toe moving and toe releasing. My face moves a lot more than most players do, and we just went back to that. I feel like I can go ahead and hit it with my right hand again. That’s how I’ve always putted. I always had a lot of hit in my stroke, and that felt good again.”
The last hole, not so much, after he missed a seven-footer and made bogey to fall back to 70.
In four starts this year, Woods has failed to break 70 in the opening round. Only once in his career has he broken 70 in the first round at TPC Sawgrass, in 2013, when he shot a pair of 67s the first two days and went on to win.
“I felt like I could have got something in the 60s today and got off to not actually the best of starts today,” he said. “I hit some bad shots early, rectified that, made a few adjustments, and then went about my business, and then the back nine, there's nine holes on the back nine, made one par, so that was interesting.”
Friday should be, too. Woods will tee off at 8:32 a.m. in good weather and good conditions for scoring.
“Hopefully we can catch it on the calm side and some smoother greens,” he said. “Post a low number and then see if the guys have to face what we had to face in the afternoon with the wind moving pretty good.”