The pre-tournament hype was totally overwhelming.
It was constant chatter this week, blowing the pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson into a stratosphere reserved for huge rock concerts.
There’s no way their play could possibly have lived up to the hype.
The hype was out-of-control, the play? The play was, well, for lack of another description — pretty damn bad.
That’s what the golfing world got out of the 1:52 p.m. tee time Thursday at The Players. It was pretty damn bad.
The crowds at TPC Sawgrass held up their end of the bargain. They showed up big, in droves if you will.
This was sorta like a big rock concert — The Stones, Eagles, there were so many that maybe Hendrix and Joplin were back from the dead.
There was even an opening act — McIlroy, Thomas and Spieth — not Crosby, Stills and Nash but Rory, Justin and Jordan.
They pretty much stunk it up on a golden opportunity of a morning made for scoring. Spieth set the tone when he hit his approach to their first hole, the 10th, to six feet and promptly three-putted for an opening bogey. Jordy would go on to dunk a sleeve of balls in the water on that back nine. By the morning’s end it was Rory with 71, J.T. with 73 and Spieth with a crowd-silencing 75. If it really were a concert, that opening act might have been booed off the stage.
Didn’t matter, the main act, the group they all came to see was up — Tiger, Phil and Rickie for a little flavor and maybe even the promise of a low score, after all, the masses were pinning their hopes on a 42-year-old and a soon-to-be 48-year-old.
But still, like the Stones, those “older” guys are legendary. The crowds were there, waiting, hoping. Anticipation was off the charts.
What they got was an off-key performance packed with mistakes and basically uninspired play. By day’s end, the soon-to-be 48-year-old became unwatchable.
The first eight holes didn’t inspire any roars, no one whooping it up, heck, go find the bozos that scream “baba-louie” and “get-in-the-hole!” The party was looking a total dud.
Fowler was even, Woods was an unimpressive two-over, same for Mickelson.
Then Woods and Fowler gave the folks some hope. Fowler made birdie at nine then Woods finally hit two back-to-back restaurant-quality shots that left him with 18 feet for eagle and a shot at turning even par. Huge roar, fist pump, EAGLE! Yeah, yeah, surely Tiger’s gonna go low over the final nine. Mickelson stayed two-over with nothing going his way.
A sweet flip wedge from 58 yards at the 12th got Woods into red numbers for the first time. There was hope.
As the sun lowered its way west, things came undone, especially for Mickelson. Starting at 14, he went double-bogey, bogey, double-bogey, double-bogey. He turned suddenly into a 20-handicapper, sending balls into the water at 16 and the famous 17th. Fowler dunked his tee shot at 17 as well. Woods had just birdied 16 to get back to even-par for the day.
While all this misery was going on, guys were going low, really low all over the place. The course was gettable on day one, no mistaking that.
Woods saved his worst swing of the day for last. He hit a quick duck-hook at 18 that was destined immediately for the wet stuff. Give the guy credit, he fought hard and made a 12-footer for bogey to shoot even par. Mickelson fell flat on his face in that ridiculous long-sleeve shirt he wore and shot 79, his worst round at The Players since the 83 he shot back in 2000.
Fowler’s 74 put him on the wrong side of the projected cutline.
Mickelson said he flat out ran out of gas.
“I said it on Sunday at Wells Fargo. I was worried about energy this week. And I just kind of ran out at the end.” Maybe he should have asked Tiger for a Monster Energy drink, after all, the logo’s on TW’s bag.
Truth is Phil looked old out there, very old and played old.
Tiger didn’t make any excuses for that ugly tee shot to finish his day. “It wasn’t like I drew a bad lie on the tee box. That was just a bad shot.”
By the end of the misery, the crowds had filtered out. “Towards the back nine it started to get a little sparse,” Woods noticed.
And for good reason.
This big-name group didn’t hold up its end of the hype bargain.
Yeah, no doubt the folks from Jacksonville headed for their favorite beach bars by happy hour. It was the right thing to do.
After all, the opening group was bad and the music from the featured act simply stunk.