Davis Love III & Jim Furyk lead with 65s
Tiger Woods described his day as "sporadic," which could have meant a golf game that left him seven shots behind Thursday at The Players Championship, or a mind that wandered between his ailing father in California and the perils of the TPC at Sawgrass.
He wasn't fatigued from a 24-hour, coast-to-coast trip to check on Earl Woods.
Nor was he disgusted with five bogeys that offset five birdies on a cool, damp afternoon that left him closer to the cut line than the 7-under 65s posted early by Davis Love III and Jim Furyk.
After an even-par 72, Woods spoke as much about putting as perspective.
"You hit a bad shot and you want to get upset with yourself because you know you can hit better shots," Woods said. "But you know what? In the whole scheme of things, it's just a golf shot."
His 74-year-old father's body is wracked with cancer, and Woods said he flew home to lift his spirits. Golf was not part of their conversation.
"It's not about me hitting golf shots. It's about him," Woods said. "I want him around as long as possible. It's all about him feeling better, and keep fighting and keep hanging in there."
As Woods pulled into the parking lot, Love and Furyk were on a different pace on the course, headed for the same destination. Love started quickly and was steady to the end, while Furyk -- his dinner companion the night before -- opened with seven pars and closed with a 31 on the back nine.
They had a two-shot lead over Robert Allenby, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer, who conquered the treacherous island-green 17th with his 20th career birdie. Vijay Singh was among those another shot behind on a cool, but calm day on the Stadium Course.
"The course is there," Love said. "If you hit it in the fairways and putted, you were going to do well."
Any memories for Love would have been warm ones, especially on this golf course where he has won twice, even in a rain suit that he wore from start-to-finish, even though he and the other early starters go only a few sprinkles.
"After 4 under through nine, it wasn't going to come off," he said.
He had on navy rain gear three years ago in cool, blustery conditions when Love closed with a 64, matching the best closing round by a winner at The Players Championship.
If it wasn't the attire, maybe it was something in the casserole at Furyk's house Wednesday night, a small gathering that included Furyk, Love, Brad Faxon (70), Phil Mickelson (70) and Justin Leonard (75).
"It must have been real good, because it worked for Jim and I," Love said.
Mickelson had five birdies, but he dunked his tee shot on the 17th for double bogey, hit a tee shot in the water at No. 15 and scrambled for bogey, and wound up with a 70.
"Maybe Phil didn't eat enough," Love said.
Furyk played with Love, although it took a while to join him in the charge up the leaderboard. He opened with seven pars before hitting a hybrid club into 20 feet on the 219-yard eighth hole and making birdie, then making a 25-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth to get him going.
It was the first time in 11 starts at The Players Championship that Furyk broke 70.
"There are times when you get off to a start like that, look up on the leaderboard and see guys getting off to a good start, and it's hard to stay patient," Furyk said. "I stayed patient, and just let it happen."
He didn't need a leaderboard to see a good start.
Love hit 4-iron into the par-5 second for a two-putt birdie, hit 9-iron into 2 feet for birdie on the sixth, then nearly holed out his 4-iron on No. 8, leaving him a tap-in birdie. Having played so well on this course, his vision of this Pete Dye creation is far different from so many others.
Take the par-3 eighth, one of the toughest on the course.
"When I get up there, I say, 'This hole has always been good to me,' rather than going, 'It's hard to hit this green.' I'm thinking positive thoughts," Love said. "When you have a place where you're comfortable, it makes it easier. I feel good everywhere on this course."
Woods left Florida on Tuesday afternoon and came home late Wednesday, about 12 hours before his tee time. He made no excuses for his 72, and offered no details what caused him to leave, and why he came back. He thought about his father, but he said he had plenty of time to prepare for each shot.
He just didn't hit them all very well.
"Unfortunately, my mechanics weren't very good," Woods said.
He said it helped that he played with Darren Clarke, whose wife, Heather, is dying from cancer that has spread throughout her body. Woods said they spoke about their situations throughout the round.
"It's just one of those things you deal with," Woods said. "Everyone has to deal with that at some point in their life, and unfortunately, right now it's our time."
It was taxing enough dealing with the Stadium Course, where double bogeys or worse await the slightest mistake. No hole can be more punishing than the infamous 17th, where Scott McCarron (82) and Bob Estes (74) each took three shots before they were safely on land.
But for all the water -- and there's a lot of it at Sawgrass -- the biggest problem was the thick, wet rough.
D.J. Trahan tried to muscle a shot out of the rough on the par-5 ninth and couldn't clear the water. And that wasn't the worst of it. After taking a drop and hitting just short of the green, Trahan was in rough so deep that he hit the ball twice with his chip, another penalty. He wound up with a 9 and shot 76.
"If you were in the fairway, the course played OK," Love said. "And if you weren't, it played tough."