Ian Poulter set The Players Championship pace for much of Thursday afternoon, but Martin Laird's birdie on the ninth hole (his 18th of the day) gave him a 7-under 65 and a share of the 18-hole lead with the fashionable Englishman.
Laird, from nearby Scotland, was the only player to finish the first round without a bogey. He was hot from the start, with birdies on 11 and 12 and two more at 16 and 17.
Poulter, for his part, had a run of four straight birdies as he made the turn, and did something Tiger Woods has failed to do in his recent outings -- make mincemeat of the par-5s. While Woods, who scuffled to an opening-round 74 and is in danger of missing his second straight cut, rued his failure to tame the par-5s, Poulter birdied them all. He also had a run of nine straight one-putts, needed just 26 putts overall, and hit 14 greens and 11 of 14 fairways in regulation.
“That's definitely, probably, in the top 10 of the rounds of golf I've ever played,” Poulter told reporters.
Not so for Woods.
“Out here you have to take care of the par‑5s,” Woods said following a day that marked his ninth consecutive round in the 70s. “Most of the guys are long enough, where week‑in and week‑out, you can get to most of the par‑5s, and that usually determines how you finish in a tournament. ... I haven't done a very good job of it ... lately.”
Woods has not carded a score in the 60s since the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which, not so coincidentally, he won. He followed up his first official victory in 30 months with his worst performance as a professional at The Masters (T40) and a missed cut at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
Bombing out of the Quail Hollow tilt was only the eighth MC of Woods’ career, but he was on pace to miss consecutive cuts for the first time in his professional career. As an amateur, he posted MCs in his first seven tour events in 1992 (1), 1993 (3), and 1994 (3).
As for some of the other notables in the star-studded lineup at TPC Sawgrass, Phil Mickelson celebrated Monday’s induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame with a 71, Rory McIlroy drowned his tee shot on the world-famous par-3 17th and carded a 72, and Woods’ playing partner Rickie Fowler followed his Quail Hollow triumph with a 72 as well.
Meanwhile, erstwhile No. 1, Luke Donald, hit his sports agent with an errant drive. Donald’s excellent adventure occurred at the par-4 14th, when he lost his tee shot to the right. The ball flew into spectators and knocked Chubby Chandler in the leg.
Chandler, who used to represent the currently top-ranked McIlroy, still works for Donald, Lee Westwood, and Darren Clarke, among others. Donald bogeyed the hole and finished with a 72.