Poor putting plagues Tiger's 'pretty good' day

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Read the next statement carefully and remember it, because you won't see these words joined together very often: Tiger Woods played 18 holes of golf on Thursday, but failed to make a single birdie.

Woods' opening-round 75 at the Players Championship was just his fifth as a pro -- and first since the opening round of the 2003 Masters -- that didn't include at least one red number. Perhaps the only thing more surprising than the score was his reaction to it afterwards.

"I hit the ball pretty good," he contended after making 15 pars and three bogeys.

Uh, really? Tiger's "pretty good" is often another player's career round, usually resulting in some number that begins with a "6". His "really good" is otherworldly and his "not so good," well, that's the type of stuff usually reserved for the 75s.

But he spoke the truth on Thursday and the stats backed him up. Woods hit six of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens in regulation during the round, numbers that are hardly out of sight, but do qualify for, as Tiger said, "pretty good" status.

So why the unsavory result?

It was the putter that disowned Woods on this day – or was it the other way around? – as he didn't hole one putt of longer than 10 feet. (He did make a 9-foot, 11-incher on No. 18, though; gotta love the technology that figures that one out.) For the round, he took a total of 31 putts and missed par attempts of seven feet (on No. 4), 13 feet (on No. 6) and five feet (on No. 8).

"I had three three-putts today and, consequently, 3-over par," said Woods. "I don't think I've ever had a three-putt that felt good."

He wasn't making excuses, but offered an idea of how much 10 years of previous experience helped his cause on this revamped TPC-Sawgrass Stadium Course. "None," he responded with a smile.

"The greens are new," said Woods, who hasn't finished in the top-10 here in five straight starts. "They're not quite settled yet and it's going to take a little time. If you put the ball in the correct spots and leave yourself uphill putts, you can be aggressive. When you're putting across slopes, it becomes a little more of a test."

As part of the major renovations this venue has incurred over the past 14 months, the greens have been redone, replacing the overseeded rye grass with Bermuda for this year's event.

"Greens are a little bit tricky to read, different grain out there than we're used to," Woods said. "I had a tougher time than the guys at the top of the board."

In addition to the 2003 Masters, Woods previously failed to make birdie at the 1999 British Open (third round) and 1998 Tour Championship (first and second rounds) and only had an eagle in the first round of the 2003 U.S. Open. As an amateur, he didn't record any scores under par at the 1995 British Open final round.

What do each of those events have in common? None saw Woods claim the title come Sunday afternoon.

Don't count out a second Players victory for Woods (who won in 2001) just yet, though. Despite finishing the day eight strokes behind co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Rory Sabbatini, he said he believes he's still in the hunt with three rounds left to play.

What does he need to do?

"Just keep doing like what I did today," he said. "Stay patient, hit the ball as consistently as I did all day. Just got to make a few more putts."

If the putter gets hot, expect that "pretty good" swing to result in a pretty good score over the next few days.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com