Crane maximized chances, leads TPC

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- They are separated by 71 places in the Official World Ranking and 64 PGA Tour victories.

On Thursday, they also were separated by 136 feet of made putts.

If you want to know how irritating and exhilarating the game of golf can be, check out the real estate negotiated on the putting surfaces at the TPC Sawgrass on Thursday by Tiger Woods and Ben Crane and you will at least get an idea.

Woods made a total of 35 feet, 8 inches worth of putts.

Crane made a total of 171 feet, 8 inches worth of putts.

Woods shot a rather frustrating 1-under-par 71.

Crane shot a very satisfying 7-under-par 65 to take the lead at The Players Championship.

"I was able to put the ball in some good spots and was able to capitalize, making 170 feet of putts or something -- that's close to a record for me," Crane said. "It was one of those rounds that you just live for when you're a golfer."

Meanwhile, Woods continued to struggle on the greens, saying that the 71 "was the worst I could have shot."

The longest putt Woods made all day was a 4-footer. He had an eagle and two birdies -- a 3-footer for eagle, one birdie that was a two-putt and the other from 3 feet. All were on par-5s.

For the day, he had eight missed putts inside of 12 feet.

Crane, meanwhile, made 12 putts longer than any one putt Woods made.

"I hit it right there the first four holes right out of the gate, inside 15 feet on all four of them, and didn't make any of them," Woods said. "I hung in there and unfortunately just didn't make enough putts today. I was in position all day to make putts and just didn't do it."

For all the talk about Woods' faulty swing -- and there has been plenty of conjecture about it, legitimate or not -- his struggles this year really come down to putting.

Starting with his first stroke-play event at Doral, Woods has had only one tournament that would be considered good on the greens: the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he led the field in putting -- and won the tournament.

He lamented his misses at Doral and struggled on the greens at the Masters, where he tied for 45th (among the 50 who made the cut) in putts per green hit in regulation. For the year, he ranks 89th on the PGA Tour in that category.

Yet Woods has four top-10s, including the Bay Hill victory. Last week, he finished just 2 strokes out of a playoff despite needing 31 putts on Sunday.

Woods certainly hit the ball well enough Thursday to score better.

Sure, he had a couple of wayward drives and approaches. But he hit 10 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens, very respectable numbers. And Woods took 31 putts, tied for 117th in the field. His approach shot distance to the pin was tied for second, yet he couldn't get the ball in the hole.

To put it in more perspective: Woods' total distance of putts made (35 feet) was just 5 feet farther than Crane's single longest putt made.

And when you get a few of those to drop, the outlook changes considerably.

"No question," said Crane, who is ranked 72nd in the world and has two PGA Tour victories, his last in 2005. "These greens are fairly small out here, and so you feel like if you just get the ball on the surface, you're going to have a chance. Certainly it relaxes you.

"For example, the pin on No. 3 today is a really tough pin. If you're not playing well, you might try to go to that pin and try to make a birdie. I'm like just knock it in the middle of the green, and all of a sudden you roll one in. Up the tier and over the tier and it goes right in the hole. That's what helps you shoot a good score on this golf course."

There have not been too many of those lately for Crane, who is in his eighth year on tour and is known mostly for a slow-play incident several years ago with Rory Sabbatini.

Crane has worked hard to speed up his game, and he has put in considerable effort in improving his game.

"Three of the last four tournaments have been trunk slammers," said Crane, using slang for missing the cut. "But I got some great coaching from my instructor, Greg Rose, and I was sending him videos of swings and getting so technical with my game. He got mad at me and said, 'You need to play golf. Stop worrying about your swing. Stop worrying about your technique.' And I was able to relax."

Crane had nine fewer putts than Woods on Thursday, which doesn't completely explain the 6-stroke differential but does help do so.

As Woods well knows, it could just be as simple as rolling the ball into the cup.

"I didn't get a whole lot out of my round today," Woods said.

Meanwhile, Crane got the most out of his.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.