PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – There were 20 tee shots hit into the loch that surrounds the 17th hole on Thursday, which would be tournament golf’s version of “dog bites man.” Much more newsworthy on Day 1 at The Players was the single tee shot that found the abyss that fronts the par-3 eighth hole.
Man bites dog.
Of the 1,903 tee shots played at No. 8 during The Players since 2003, only 11 had found the water hazard that sits some 35 yards short of the putting surface and is roughly the size of a small pool. That number ballooned on Thursday when Tiger Woods laid sod over his 4-iron tee shot and bounced his effort into the mud and the murk to make it a cool dozen into the drink at No. 8.
That’s a .6 percent average since ’03, but then what else would one expect from a player who has been a “one percenter” his entire career?
“I’ve never seen it [the water hazard],” said Woods of the eighth’s water hazard. “I didn’t know it was there until now. I don’t think my ball actually touched grooves, put it that way.”
Adam Scott, who was paired with Woods on Day 1 at The Players, smiled sheepishly when asked about what could only be considered a once-in-a-lifetime tee shot.
“Occasionally everyone hits a shot they are embarrassed about,” Scott said. “I’m sure he was with that one, but you have to laugh it off.”
For many the wildly miss-hit attempt will be the lasting image from Woods’ opening day at the 2015 Players, but it’s what happened after his adventure at No. 8 that provided a glimpse into the state of the 125th-ranked player’s game.
As messy as the eighth was, his opening 73 was the sum of many parts.
“It’s probably the highest score I could have shot today,” said Woods, who was tied for 77th place after his third over-par opening effort at TPC Sawgrass in his last six starts. “I didn’t get much out of that round. I hit the ball better than the score indicates.”
Numbers do lie - even the Tour’s ShotLink number crunchers - and there is something to Woods’ claim that things could of, should of, been better.
For starters, he hit 8 of 14 fairways on Thursday which was middle-of-the-pack for the day statistically, but a vast improvement over his tee play at last month’s Masters.
For all the focus on Woods’ short game, which was awful, heading into the year’s first major, it was his driving – he didn’t hit a fairway on Sunday at Augusta National until the 13th hole – that caused him the most trouble.
At the Stadium Course on fairways that resemble hallways compared to those at Augusta National, Woods was much more prolific, particularly with his driver.
By the time he reached the 18th tee Woods had scrambled into red numbers (1 under) thanks to birdies at Nos. 14, 16 and 17, the latter courtesy of a 14-foot chip in after another tee shot narrowly missed a watery fate.
But Woods tried to hit a “low, hard cut 3-wood” that rode the wind into the water and led to a closing double bogey-6 and a grumpy player.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s both,” said Woods when asked if he was encouraged by his swing or discouraged by his score. “I should have shot in the 60s easily today and hopefully tomorrow I can get it done.”
Maybe this was a two-part plan all along.
Drill down and fix a short game that was just south of sorry to start the season and then tinker with the remaining issues afterward. But putting out fires can be distracting and often times counterproductive.
The good news for Woods is that short game that needed so much work appeared, if not fixed, then at least functional. The bad news is the rest of the package is still a work in progress.
Woods was able to narrow a two-way miss earlier in the week into a tee shot that although favored the left side of the fairway on occasion was at least functional, even on a claustrophobic layout like the Stadium Course.
For Woods, Thursday at TPC Sawgrass wasn’t about a shocking 4-iron as much as it was showing signs that things are starting to move in the right direction.
“It’s only one bad swing, one bad shot,” he explained. “I had to fix what I had starting out the round with more importantly. [No.] 8 just, I just happened to make a bad swing, so what, move on. But I had a bad pattern starting out and I rectified that, which was nice.”
Unwilling to let his round be defined by his adventure at the eighth, Woods, as he has done so many times in the past, took the long view – one bad swing, one step closer to competitiveness.