PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Tiger Woods never had a birdie putt longer than his shadow Thursday morning, giving himself one chance after another in the opening round of The Players Championship.
After six holes, he already was five shots behind.
"I was in position all day to make putts," he said. "And I just didn't do it."
The longest putt he made all day was from 4 feet, that after a towering 7-iron into the par-5 16th hole for an eagle. He two-putted for birdie on the par-5 second, then finished his round with a remarkable pitch from thick grass to 3½ feet for birdie and a 1-under 71.
Woods has never shot better than 70 in the first round at TPC Sawgrass, so this was nothing new.
But the putting was a surprise.
"This is probably the highest score I could have shot today," he said "And I didn't get a whole lot of my round. That's the way it goes."
The statistics show that he took 31 putts.
What they don't show is the missed opportunities - seven birdie putts he missed inside 12 feet, including the first four holes.
Frustration began to show on his next hole, the par-4 14th, when he hit a drive so far too the right that it nearly wound up in the water in front of the 12th tee, a pond that is not supposed to be in play. He tried to play a fade around the pines, only to pull the shot toward trees and into a bed of flowers. He did well to escape with bogey.
Whatever momentum he tried to build from his eagle didn't last long. After a tee shot that found dry land on the island green 17th, his 9-foot birdie putt spun 180 degrees around the cup, and his approach on the 18th was a yard too long and went off the back of the green.
Still, it was the short stick that confounded him.
"I didn't hit good putts," he said. "My speed was off early, then I got my speed down at the end and I kept lipping out putts. I just need to obviously read them better or hit better putts, one of the two."
The greens were redone when the tournament moved from March to May for 2007, and with warmer weather, there is not any winter seed on the putting surfaces. Woods has played once since the change, missing last year recovering from the first of two knee surgeries.
"They're certainly way different than what we played before," he said. "You've got to be careful out there."
Not that it matters.
No tournament has vexed him like The Players. Even though he won in 2001 and was runner-up the year before, Woods has gone six consecutive years without finishing in the top 10.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.