Tigers Struggles Continue at Players

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods followed the flight of his ball as it descended toward the flag on the island-green 17th, anxious to see how his best swing of the day would turn out.
 
Splash!
 
In such a funk that even his good shots turn out bad, Woods' struggles continued Thursday in The Players Championship. He opened with a 3-over 75 that left him 10 shots out of the lead and in jeopardy of missing the cut for the first time in six years.
 
'I just need to get myself going,' Woods said. 'If I get myself in red numbers (under par), I'll be all right.'
 
He looks anything but that right now.
 
He was in a tie for 106th with half of the 147-man field just starting their rounds. Worse yet, Woods plays his second round Friday afternoon, when the course is typically harder and the wind is stronger.
 
Woods holds the PGA Tour record with 119 consecutive cuts, which dates to his withdrawal from the 1998 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The only cut he has missed was at the 1997 Canadian Open at Royal Montreal.
 
There are plenty of signs that this could be the week the streak ends.
 
The 75 was his fourth straight round over par - Woods had six consecutive rounds over par in 1998 - and it was his fifth consecutive round where he had to take a penalty stroke.
 
His score might have been even higher except for the putts he made on the final three holes - a 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 16th after driving into the rough; a 10-footer for par at No. 17 after hitting over the green and into the water; and a 12-footer for par on the closing hole after hitting next to a tree.
 
That impressed John Huston more than anything.
 
'He didn't let it get away from him,' Huston said.
 
The scrutiny will only get greater with the Masters two weeks away, especially because Woods failed to win a major last year for the first time since 1998.
 
'I didn't feel like I hit the ball that poorly. That's the funny thing,' Woods said. 'I'm hitting quality golf shots. I'm just not converting putts, or when I hit a poor shot, I can't convert it for par. I'd just like to not make any bogeys.'
 
Woods must have known things were not going his way when he got to No. 17, the most famous hole at the Stadium Course on the TPC at Sawgrass.
 
Coming off a birdie to get back to 2 over, Woods had 143 yards to the top of the ridge and 149 yards to the hole, seemingly a perfect 9-iron.
 
The breeze kicked in hard about the time he stepped up to his ball, and Woods had no idea that his shot never had a chance to find land.
 
All he saw was the ball heading for the flag.
 
All he heard was a collective groan from the gallery.
 
'It was right at it,' he said. 'That's what happens when you catch the wrong wind.'
 
He went to the drop area and played a bold shot, hitting a lob wedge high and toward the back of the green, and avoided making double bogey by holing the putt.
 
Still, his problems began long before he got to the 17th.
 
He failed to take advantage of an easy pin placement on the opening hole.
 
Needing a good drive on the par-5 second to set up a birdie chance, he hit 3-wood to the right into the pine straw. He tried to punch out, but hit a large branch and went sideways, then shoved his long iron into a bunker.
 
Woods flung his club at the bag and started walking, his mood already foul. He blasted out to 6 feet, but missed that putt and wound up with bogey.
 
He dropped another shot on No. 6 with a wedge from the fairway. The ball landed just behind the hole, but hopped hard enough to catch a slope and run off the green into the first cut. Woods tried a baby flop, but moved it only 6 feet to the top of the hill.
 
His only birdies came on the par 5s - a 3-wood just over the green at No. 9 and a superb chip down the side of a slope to 2 feet, and the 12-footer on No. 16.
 
Woods missed a 6-foot birdie putt on No. 12, but his problem Thursday was that he didn't have any other chances inside 25 feet. He hit only seven greens and found the short grass only six times. Are the stars aligned against golf's biggest star?
 
'It seems to be that way,' Woods said. 'We've all been there. It's something you have to keep fighting through, and when it turns, it's great.'
 
It needs to turn quickly, or Woods will be heading home.
 
Related links:
  • Leaderboard - The Players Championship

  • Photo Gallery - The Players Championship

  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship

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