Tiger Woods was in great form at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Thursday, as he fired a five-under 67 to end his round tied for fourth with groups still on the course.
The 67 is just one stroke shy of his career-best mark on the course, and it left him four shots behind overnight-leader Roberto Castro—who tied the course record with his nine-under 63. With the course having virtually no wind, the conditions were ideal for low scoring.
Were it not for a bogey on No. 18, Woods would have fired his first bogey-free round at Sawgrass. While the bogey to close his round will leave him with a bit of a sour taste, it likely will not keep him from sleeping tonight.
Woods is in great shape on a course that has plagued him. Since his victory here in 2001, Woods has just one top-10 finish. Making his performance even more spectacular is the fact that this time around, he's had a layoff from tournament action since the Masters.
Check out Tiger's scorecard, followed by a recap of his impressive day.
Tiger Woods' 2013 Players Championship Round 1 Scorecard
Note: Birdies and eagles appear in bold, and bogeys in italics.
*All stats via PGATour.com
Despite starting his round while looking way up at Castro, Tiger played smart and safe golf. It became apparent right away that Tiger would not be pulling out his problematic driver that often.
Tiger mustered a solid par on the opening hole and moved on to the par-five second. Par fives are always key to Tiger. When he wins tournaments, he almost always shreds the par fives. So, when his second shot found a bunker, it looked like he was going to get off to a pedestrian start on those holes.
Tiger had a different idea:
The birdie gave Tiger early momentum, and it represents yet another area of his game in which he's made huge strides during his comeback. FOXSports.com senior golf writer Robert Lusetich highlights that with this tweet:
Tiger's sand game really has gotten sharp compared with dark days of 2011 at Torrey when he left them in the sand. #players— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) May 9, 2013
With Tiger consistently pulling out a three wood on the tee, he was drilling the fairways and playing solid golf as he carded six straight pars.
However, his par streak would not have lasted as long were it not for what has to be his most regrettable shot of the day.
Tiger had a short-and-straight effort for birdie on No. 7, but he shockingly pushed it right.
Lusetich adds some color with this tweet:
That was an uphill four footer Tiger - you've got to at least touch the hole. -1 #players— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) May 9, 2013
Tiger's ball took a hop off a spike mark, but it was going to be to the right of the target regardless. This is the kind of missed opportunity that can derail a round. However, Tiger was too focused to be denied on this day.
He finished even on the par-three eighth, and then played the par-five ninth to perfection. After laying up with his second shot, this approach gives you an idea of the kind of pinpoint distance control Tiger had working with his wedges:
That gave Tiger two birdies on both of the front's par fives, and without a bogey, he finished the side with a solid two-under 34.
Tiger was just getting started.
From 140 yards out, Woods drilled this approach on No. 10:
The birdie dropped Woods to three-under, but he wasn't content. He stayed aggressive on the par-five 11th as he went for the green in two. He didn't quite make it, but it set up for an easy birdie to move him to four-under.
The Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman offered up a great observation at this point:
Tiger Woods looking pretty effortless so far as he moves to -4 for day at Players.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) May 9, 2013
It did seem effortless. Tiger wasn't getting into much trouble. He was hitting his spots just like you'd draw it up.
He kept that up as he played the short par-four 12th flawlessly to pick up another birdie and move to five-under.
However, No. 14 did not carry the same sense of effortlessness. Taking out his driver (likely due to the fact he was going into a headwind), Tiger sailed his drive far right, and he had to pound his ball out of the pine straw.
He came up short and left himself with a difficult chip, but he managed to get up and down. This proved to be a nice par on a pesky hole.
An uneventful par on the 15th led Tiger to the final par five of the day. He went with the driver and left it in good shape, but just off the fairway. He was short of the green on his second, but got up and down from there for a birdie to move into second place at six-under.
On to the island green, the tricky par-three 17th.
This hole has not been kind to Tiger; he's played it at 11-over during his career. Pulling out his sand wedge, he went wide right, resulting in a putt that had to travel nearly the length of the green. He put it within five feet and cleaned it up for par.
After a beautiful drive on the water-lined No. 18, Woods nearly stuck it tight, but he had just a little too much mustard on his approach and it rolled off the back of the green.
It was an unfortunate break, and it left him with a difficult chip, which he didn't hit hard enough to clear the crest of the hill. He was forced to go up and down from there for the bogey.
Tiger made a slight equipment change at some point between the Masters and Thursday. PGATour.com's equipment manager, Jonathan Wall, tweeted the details:
Saw Tiger Woods swapped out the GD AD DI-6x shaft in his Nike VR Pro driver and went back to his old Mitsubishi Diamana White Board.— Jonathan Wall (@jonathanrwall) May 9, 2013
I'd say the switch is working.
Editor of Yahoo!'s Devil Ball Golf, Shane Bacon, makes an excellent point here:
Critics might focus on Tiger not winning the Masters as a setback, but him playing well at Sawgrass is enormous in evaluating his game.— Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) May 9, 2013
This course has never been well suited to Tiger's strengths, and he's struggled mightily here in the past. However, his most recent performance shows how comfortable he is with his swing and his game.
This is bad news for the rest of the field.