PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – At least one player loved the heat and humidity at The Players Championship on Thursday.
Fiji’s Vijay Singh, who lives a short drive from the Stadium Course, believes the warm weather helped loosen his back muscles for an opening round played in temperatures reaching near 90 degrees. He made four consecutive birdies beginning with the par-3 third and finished at 3-under 69, three shots behind leaders J.B. Holmes and Robert Allenby.
Singh, who withdrew from the Houston Open last month and missed the cut at the Masters and Quail Hollow, said his recent struggles stemmed from back spasms.
“This hot weather is doing it very good,” he said. “I’ve had no problems for a week now. I think it’s going to be OK.”
Singh took nearly three weeks off before the Masters, with his only practice coming from a few chip shots at the range.
“I didn’t do anything at all,” he said. “You just have to rest and try not to hurt, you know. So I had a lot of painkillers in me and muscle relaxers and that kind of thing just to release the muscles. … When you have an injury like mine, you just cannot do anything. It’s the worst kind of injury because it paralyzes you all over. You just have to rest, and there is nothing you can do.”
Singh practiced in tennis shoes earlier this week – looking as if he took notice of Fred Couples’ wardrobe at the Masters – but never considered wearing them for a round. Why not?
“There are too many guys yelling out, ‘Those are Freddy’s shoes you’ve got on,”’ Singh said. “So I kind of had enough of that.”
TWICE BITTEN: Greg Owen’s venture at the famed island green stood out for all the wrong reasons. The Englishman was the only player to hit into the murky water twice in the opening round.
Only seven balls ended up wet Thursday – and Owen had two of them.
He struggled with club selection, settled on an easy 9-iron and then came short from 124 yards away. He trudged to the drop area and chunked his second shot into the lagoon. His fifth stroke finally stayed dry, stopping more than 20 feet from the cup. He two-putted from there for quadruple bogey – the only score worse than double all day at TPC Sawgrass’ signature hole.
“I’m furious,” Owen said after he shot a 1-over 73. “It was two bad shots.”
It also was the difference between being in the hunt and being back in the pack.
“It’s The Players Championship, not a great year, I’m playing nicely and I go and do that,” said Owen, who has five missed cuts and a withdrawal in 12 tournaments this year. “You want me to be happy?”
PURE LUCK: Roland Thatcher may have had the shot of the day at the island green – or maybe just the luckiest shot of the day.
Thatcher pulled his tee shot left. His ball struck a wooden pylon, bounced high into the air, landed near the path leading to the green and rolled onto the paved part of the walkway. He got a drop from there, chipped past the hole and made a 10-footer for par.
“I thought it was wet the whole way,” Thatcher said after posting a 71. “And it deserved to be, too. To top it all off, I hit a marginal chip, then made a putt from the fringe. Added it all up and it was 3. … It’s certainly one of the most interesting 3s I’ve ever made. I can’t say it was the best considering there was a lot of bad shots involved.”
Thatcher got cheered wildly after his par.
“I felt like I had just won the golf tournament,” he said. “I got a nice little standing ovation walking underneath the tunnel over to 18.”
CADDIE SPEAKS: New Zealand’s Steve Williams, the caddie for Tiger Woods, was walking toward the clubhouse when a reporter he had never seen asked him for an interview.
It was an unusual sight – Williams set down the bag and spent the next 10 minutes giving an interview. He smiled, laughed at times, constantly made eye contract and listened closely to every question. He was in no hurry to leave.
The subject matter: racing, of course.
Williams spoke with Don Coble, who covers motors sports for the Morris Communications group that includes the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. Williams races on dirt tracks in New Zealand, and was proud to point out that he won the points series for his model of cars.
FATHER-SON DUO: Bill and Jay Haas became the first father-son combination to compete at The Players Championship on Thursday. They fared pretty well, too.
Bill shot a 68, three strokes better than his 56-year-old father. Neither watched the other play in the opening round, mostly because their tee times were about an hour apart.
Bill said he planned to call his dad later Thursday to talk about their rounds and get some feedback on the course conditions.
“The one guy I can call that knows how I’m feeling out there is him,” Bill said. “He’s been there. … It’s nice to have someone like that in the field that cares. I’ve got buddies that are playing, but they don’t generally care how I do. That’s what this game is. We’re individuals out here. I would say he’s the only player in this field that I can talk to about my round and he genuinely cares, and that’s kind of nice to have.”
COLOMBIAN CONNECTION: NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya walked 18 holes with fellow Colombian sports star Camilo Villegas, enjoying the kind of anonymity he never gets at racetracks.
“It was a lot of fun,” Montoya said. “Out here, I was just another golf fan.”
Montoya, an avid golfer with a single-digit handicap, said the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is now atop his list of courses he wants to play. When he does make it back for a round, he hopes to avoid trouble at the famed island green.
“It’s not that long. I was surprised,” he said. “But it didn’t look easy. It looks a lot tougher in person. It’s pretty impressive.”
Montoya is trying to get Villegas to travel to Darlington Raceway for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race. Of course, that would mean flying up after his round Saturday.
“I’m not so sure,” Villegas said.
DIVOTS: NFL kicker Josh Scobee, a scratch golfer who will try to qualify for the U.S. Open next week, volunteered at the course for the second straight year. He walked 18 holes Thursday with the three-man group featuring Tiger Woods, helping silence the crowd before shots. His next assignment? Walking with Phil Mickelson. … Eight-six players broke par in the first round, resulting in the lowest scoring average since 1993. … The par-4 14th was the toughest hole of the day, yielding just six birdies. The easiest was the par-5 second, which gave up six eagles and 68 birdies.