The world rankings meant absolutely nothing in the first round of The Players Championship.
Nine of the top 10 players in the universe are playing in the tournament — considered by many as the “fifth major” – and only two of them finished among the top 50 in the opening round at TPC Sawgrass.
That would be Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood. Each shot a 1-under 71 on Thursday in a round where lesser-known players took the top spots on the leaderboard.
Ian Poulter took advantage of an early tee time to fire a solid 7-under-65 and Martin Laird, playing in tougher conditions later in the day, became the only player in the opening round without a bogey, matching Poulter.
He made birdie on his final hole to grab a share of the lead, although his focus was more on his scorecard than the leaderboard.
“I knew I hadn’t made a 5 all day, and that was kind of a little goal I had,” said Laird, who finished on the par-5 ninth. “(It had) Nothing to do with getting to 7 under. It was, `I don’t want to make a 5 all day.'”
And he didn’t.
Poulter finally had his mind at ease after getting moved into his new home, which left him little time to practice. If nothing else, it was good to think only about golf.
He finally finished building a house at Lake Nona that took nearly three years to construct and ran off four birdies around the turn, birdieing all the par 5s on the course.
“It’s no surprise to me to be fresh in the mind this week, to know that I’m finally in the house and I’m relaxed and the family is happy, and all of the hassle and stress is over and I can just go out and play golf,” he said. “And I have felt relaxed this week.”
That’s not easy to do at Sawgrass.
The leading duo was one shot ahead of Blake Adams. Ben Crane and Kevin Na were two behind and 11 players were three back. Overall, 27 players shot in the 60s and more than half the field broke par.
Tiger Woods was not among them. Not even close.
He opened with a bogey and was never under par in a round of 74. Coming off a rare missed cut at Quail Hollow, Woods was in jeopardy of missing consecutive cuts for the first time in his career, and leaving before The Players Championship was over for the third straight year.
“I just didn’t score,” Woods said. “It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots, and obviously, my bad shots ended up in worse spots.”
The conditions were ideal for scoring for those hitting it where they were aiming, and making their share of putts.
Adams ran off five straight birdies early in his round and kept the mistakes to a minimum. Na shot 30 on the back nine.
Sawgrass, though, punishes even the slightest mistakes.
Rory McIlroy, the world No. 1, was 2 under for his round until coming up just short of the island-green 17th and making double bogey. He wound up with a 72, while Mickelson had a 71 in his first round after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame Westwood shot a 71 despite seven birdies.
Sawgrass took its share of victims, as usual.
The star group of the morning was Woods, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, the only player with two wins this year. None of them were particularly impressive. Fowler, the winner Sunday at Quail Hollow, failed to save par when missing greens that killed his momentum and shot 72, while Mahan hit two shots into the water on his way to a 74.
Here’s now the Top 10 players in the world fared on Day One.
1. Rory McIlroy: even-par 72, T-55.
2. Luke Donald: even-par 72,T-55.
3. Lee Westwood: 1-under 71, T-37.
4. Bubba Watson: Not playing.
5. Hunter Mahan: 2-over 74,T-100.
6. Steve Stricker: 4-over 76,T-122.
7. Tiger Woods: 2-over 74,T-100.
8. Martin Kaymer: 1-over 73, T-78.
9. Webb Simpson: 1-0ver 73, T-78.
10. Phil Mickelson: 1-under 73, T-37.
— This the first time Poulter has at least shared the first-round lead in his past 139 starts.
— Laird is looking to join Sandy Lyle (1987) as the only players from Scotland to win the event.
— Adams is making his 75th start on the PGA Tour this week. He missed his last two cuts coming into this week — at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the Wells Fargo Championship.
— Woods only has three rounds in the 60s in his last 20 rounds at TPC Sawgrass. His last round in the 60s at TPC Sawgrass was a 69 in the second round in 2009.
— Woods started the season with 10 of 13 rounds in the 60s. With his 74 on Thursday, Woods now has a streak of nine consecutive rounds in the 70s. Woods has not had a round in the 60s on the PGA Tour since the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
— Woods missed the cut last week at the Wells Fargo Championship. Woods has not missed consecutive cuts as a professional. The last time he missed consecutive cuts was in 1994 as an amateur. Woods missed the cut in his first seven PGA Tour events as an amateur in 1992 (1), 1993 (3) and 1994 (3).
— Defending champion K.J. Choi posted a 3-over 75. His win last year is his only top-10 finish at TPC Sawgrass.