Thursday, March 12, 2009
Tiger frustrated; Lefty tied for lead
By Bob Harig ESPN.com
DORAL, Fla. -- Tiger Woods could not quite get to where just about everyone else was seemingly going.
Tiger Woods shot a 1-under 71 in the opening round of the CA Championship.
Calling his first stroke-play round since knee surgery "a little bit frustrating," Woods shot a 1-under-par 71 at Doral's Blue Monster course in the opening round of the CA Championship.
"I need to be just a touch sharper," Woods said. "I hit the ball well all day today. If a few putts went in, score would be totally different."
But as players from all around the globe kept pouring in birdies -- relative unknowns like Prayad Marksaeng and Jeev Milka Singh, followed by the familiar name of Phil Mickelson -- Woods was stuck in the middle of the pack of an 80-man field.
Mickelson chipped in three times, twice while finishing with three straight birdies, on his way to a 7-under 65 that gave him a four-way share of the lead with Retief Goosen, Marksaeng and Singh.
The group one shot behind included British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who didn't feel as though he did much of anything right and had his best score of the year.
"I think I hit two fairways with my driver today. So it's not like I played good golf or anything like that," Harrington said. "It was all about the score."
For Mickelson, it was mostly about his finish.
T-1. Mickelson (-7)
T-1. J. Singh (-7)
T-1. Goosen (-7)
T-1. Marksaeng (-7)
Four tied for second at -6
• Complete scores
He hit into the water on No. 3 and took double bogey, found the water again on the par-3 fourth hole and chipped in for par. Mickelson was even through eight holes and was hopeful of a good back nine that would allow him a chance Friday to get into contention.
Three hours later, he already was there.
After trying to drive the 355-yard 16th hole, he pitched up to 3 feet for birdie. Then he chipped in from short of the green on the 17th, and made it three straight birdies by chipping in from about 25 feet on the 18th.
"It was just nice to see the ball go in the hole," Mickelson said.
That wasn't the case for Woods.
Woods was playing his first stroke-play round in competition since winning the U.S. Open in June, where he defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff. Eight days later, he had surgery to replace his anterior cruciate ligament, and went some six months without swinging a club.
He returned two weeks ago at the Accenture Match Play Championship, where Woods was eliminated by Tim Clark in the second round. He played just 32 holes at that tournament and pronounced himself pleased with his comeback.
Woods hit seven of 14 fairways, 11 of 18 greens and needed 28 putts at a place where he has won three times in six attempts and never finished worse than a tie for ninth.
But Woods struggled on the greens, where he made just one of 11 putts over 10 feet and had several lip-outs and burned edges.
"It was a little bit frustrating on those greens today," he said. "I hit so many putts that looked good. I thought I hit my lines and thought I had the right speed, but they just didn't go in. ... I'll just keep doing the same things. It's not like I was playing poorly or struggling all the way around. I had my speed on the greens all day."
At a place where he has dominated, Woods was rather ordinary, failing to birdie his first hole, the reachable par-5 10th after a perfect drive, and hitting several indifferent approaches with short irons in his hand.
Woods made just three birdies. The first was at the par-5 12th, where he holed a 10-footer after having to hit his second shot short of the green from behind a tree. After a par putt lipped out at the par-3 13th, Woods stiffed his approach with a 7-iron at the par-3 15th and saw several other chances just barely miss.
After a birdie at the easy par-5 first, Woods ran into trouble at the long par-4 fourth, where he knocked his tee shot in the water. But he was able to get up and down for a bogey. Another opportunity passed at the par-5 eighth, where Woods drove into a fairway bunker, had to lay up, then missed a 12-footer for birdie.
"It wasn't like I hit bad putts," Woods said. "That's the thing. If I was struggling on the greens today, then yeah, I would be a lot more frustrated. But I hit good putts and they just didn't go in. That's all right. If you continue hitting good putts, they will eventually start going in."
Singh had "one of those days" as well -- the good kind, that is.
His best finish in a World Golf Championships event was a tie for 26th in the CA Championship two years ago, and he topped his previous best round at Doral by three shots.
"A 65, obviously, I have to be happy with that," Singh said.
Goosen could have taken the outright lead on his final hole, but missed a 5-footer for birdie at the par-3 ninth. It was a rare putting blip for Goosen; he needed only 21 putts on the first 17 holes. Marksaeng made birdie on his final hole, also the ninth, to grab his share of the lead.
Singh -- who doesn't play in the U.S. exclusively, flying over 100,000 miles annually to play around the globe -- had eight birdies and one bogey on his way to 65. He's never been better than tied for ninth in a PGA Tour event.
"Honestly, I love this golf course," Singh said. "I think it suits my eye."
Padraig Harrington, James Kingston and Rod Pampling each shot 66. Louis Oosthuizen birdied four of his first five holes on the way to a 67, and Camilo Villegas -- the Colombian who tends to play well in South Florida, where the Latin population shows up in droves to watch him -- had four birdies on his final nine holes to shoot 67.
Sean O'Hair also was among those at 5 under, as his round began eagle-eagle. He reached the par-5 opening hole in two shots and made the putt, then chipped in from 42 yards on the par-4 second hole.
"It was pretty straightforward," O'Hair said.
Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy's bid for a fourth WGC title -- and third win in six starts this year -- got off to a slow start.
He slept on the lead four times en route to winning this event last year, but never was near the top of the leaderboard Thursday, shooting an opening-round 73, with just one birdie on his card.
All five of his wins since 2006 have come in events with prestige, like a World Golf Championship event, a U.S. Open or the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship. Ogilvy can't explain why, nor does he grasp his outrageous 18-3 record in head-to-head competition, capped by his second win at Match Play this month.
"I'm not really sure whether I have a better frame of mind in a big tournament," Ogilvy said. "I definitely enjoy big tournaments. Not that I don't enjoy all golf tournaments, but I enjoy big tournaments more."
And this is a big tournament, for certain. Someone in the 80-player, no-cut field will earn $1.4 million.
Mickelson is putting a DVD on the market on short-game instruction, and he put on an exhibition. Lefty is possibly the best player in golf inside 100 yards, and his chipping was deft as ever. Perhaps no chip-in was as significant as the fourth hole, especially coming off a double bogey on the previous hole and having to take another penalty stroke.
But it was the whole package that made Mickelson so excited. Even when he was even par through eight holes, he knew it was coming.
"I felt going into this tournament that I was playing as well as I ever have, as far as I can remember," he said. "From 50 yards in, my short game has never been this good. And I've never driven the ball this long and this straight without the fear of a big miss. My iron play is better than it has been in quite some time. And I expect that to improve as the week goes on.
"I am excited about the next three rounds."
Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed ot this report.