PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | Had it been opening night on Broadway, the reviews would have been … meh.
Were it a special recipe at a trendy restaurant, you might ask for salt and pepper and maybe some hot sauce, too.
Had it been … well, without belaboring the point it’s fair to say that the glittery grouping of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in Thursday’s first round of the Players Championship fell as flat as Florida.
It came off about like the long-sleeve shirt Mickelson wore, making him look more like a guy who slipped out of the office for a quick nine before dark than one of the game’s all-time greats.
And that’s the way Mickelson played, too, shooting a 79 that included a three-pack of double bogeys in a four-hole stretch beginning at the 14th hole that explained his slow, loping walk up the 18th fairway. Tough day at the office, you could say.
“I think nobody does kind of slightly overweight middle aged guy better than me, and this says exactly who I am,” Mickelson said of his Mizzen+Main shirt, which he said will be part of his look going forward. If he packed one for the weekend, he may not need it unless he shoots something close to the course record (63) on Friday morning.
What happened to Mickelson? Let the soon-to-be 48-year-old explain it.
“I knew this was going to be an issue. I said it (last) Sunday at Wells Fargo, I was worried about energy this week. And I just kind of ran out at the end,” Mickelson said.
For Woods, his even-par 72 looked and felt like work. Aside from an eagle at the par-5 ninth that ended a stretch of 29 consecutive tournament holes without a birdie or better, Woods’ round didn’t have much snap, crackle or pop and ended with a gurgle when he hit an iron shot into the water off the 18th tee.
“I felt like today the way I was hitting the golf ball, especially toward the back nine, that I felt like I should have shot something in the 60s, but didn’t do it,” Woods said.
If you’re wondering about how the Woods-Mickelson thing would have gone down in match play form, Woods would have won, 2 and 1. Maybe both will play better if they follow through on their challenge to each other to play in a special made-for-TV match.
Fowler wasn’t immune to the struggles, shooting 74 that included a ball in the water at the par-3 17th.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about their grouping is they will have the benefit of playing early Friday when the conditions should be ideal for scoring, much like Thursday.
What was it like with those three on the course together? It wasn’t quite the carnival some imagined it would be, especially as the day wore on.
“They were into it early,” Woods said. “Toward the back nine it started getting a little sparse. I think they might have tipped back a couple and got a little sleepy.
“I think tomorrow will be a little bit different. Tomorrow they will be out early, I’m sure, and they will be into it and it will be fun for Phil and Rickie and myself.”