By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- As Tiger Woods stepped on the tee at his 18th and final hole late Thursday afternoon in the opening round of THE PLAYERS Championship, he was on the verge of accomplishing something he had never done before in his storied PGA TOUR career.
Play a bogey-free round at TPC Sawgrass.
Of course, once word spread that Tiger had history in sight, the jinx was on. Too many people were talking about it, too many people were tempting fate. So obviously, it didn't happen.
Instead, Tiger bogeyed the 18th, settling for a 5-under 67 that leaves him four shots off the pace set by Roberto Castro, who shot the round of his life in tying the course record with a 63.
Given that Woods has pretty much blazed through golf's history books, he didn't seem particularly bent out of shape about failing to check this one off his bucket list. He knows that Pete Dye's iconic course does not give up bogey-free rounds easily.
"It doesn't take much to make bogey around here," Woods said. "I think that's kind of what Pete had intended.
"I'm sure that most of the guys throughout their careers really haven't had too many other days that are spotless on their cards."
Surprisingly, there were five spotless cards on Thursday, with Castro leading a list that also included Tiger's good buddy Rory McIlroy, who shot 66.
Tiger would have joined McIlroy at that number had he managed par at the 18th. Instead, his 8-iron approach shot from 200 yards was too strong, the ball finishing behind the hole.
Faced with a grainy lie below the hole, he opted not to use the putter. He contemplated 4-iron but was worried about too much chatter, and his 60-degree wedge offered too much bounce. So he went with his 56-degree wedge to "try to shallow it out at the bottom."
Then he added: "It didn't work out. The grain snagged it and I hit it short."
Another chip and a short bogey putt wasn't the ending wasn't what Tiger wanted but he'll certainly take the 67. It's his lowest opening-round score in 16 starts at THE PLAYERS.
Although Tiger has won here before (in 2001), the Stadium Course has not been kind to him lately. In his last 24 rounds at THE PLAYERS, he's managed to shoot in the 60s just three times. Last year, he suffered five bogeys in his opening round, recorded 12 for the week (along with a double bogey) and tied for 40th.
Given that recent history, 67 was just the kind of start he wanted, even if he wasn't 100 percent sharp. He said the ball was "flying forever out there" and that caused him to adjust his distances. Fortunately, his misses were in the correct spots.
"I need to strike the ball a little better than I did today," he said.
In addition, he wasn't able to coax much magic out of his putter. His longest made putt was just 6 feet, which led to one of those weird what-do-we-make-of-this stats -- his 67 is the lowest round recorded at TPC Sawgrass during the ShotLink era (since 2003) without a putt longer than 6 feet.
"The afternoon wave got a little bit of wind and it dried out the greens," Woods said. "Some of the greens were pretty bumpy."
When Woods teed off Thursday afternoon, he was already nine strokes off the lead. Castro was in the morning wave that took advantage of ideal scoring conditions, while Woods and his afternoon mates had more winds to battle.
Woods knew he had to shoot in the 60s just to stay in touch with the leaders.
"I've seen that a lot, but not at this golf course," he said about the low early scores. "You might see it the years at Flint (during the Buick Open). One year 8 under wasn't even in the top five after the first day.
"So I've seen tournaments like that but never here."
And Woods has had bogey-free rounds before, but never here. He almost did it Thursday. Perhaps next time we should just keep quiet until he does it.