By Ann Liguori
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The anticipation surrounding who would shine in the Tiger-Phil-Bubba marquee threesome sizzled early as Tiger Woods completely out-played Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson on Thursday.
Tiger shot a 1-under 69 and was very pleased with his consistent play on an extremely challenging course that he said played ‘much faster and springy’ than during the practice rounds.
Phil was out of sorts, shooting a 6-over 76.
Mickelson’s first tee shot was so off course that the ball was never found. He had to take the long walk back to hit a second tee shot and made a nice putt to save bogie. After bogeying his first three holes (9, 10, 11), Phil birdied his fifth hole, the par three, 13th but never found his game, struggling with seven bogies.
Masters champ Bubba Watson struggled with an 8-over 78, looking uncomfortable throughout. “It’s very disappointing. It’s a very tough golf course and obviously, it (the course) beat me today.”
Bubba had more to say on Tiger’s stellar play than his own struggles. “He played pretty good … that was the old Tiger. That was beautiful to watch. That’s what we all come to see. It was awesome to see him strike the ball.”
Bubba jokingly tweeted before the round that he was withdrawing from the tournament to watch Tiger and Phil and then remembered he was playing with them, and thus had a front row seat!
Tiger had 13 pars. He sunk downhill birdie putts on holes four and five, then bogied six and then finished out with pars on holes 7 and 8.
“Well, this golf course, it’s so demanding,” repeated Tiger. “And if you’re off your game just a little bit, you’re going to pay the price. And it’s hard to make pars. Phil and Bubba were off just a little bit. This is one of those Opens where it’s just really hard to make birdies. This is not like it was last year. This is a tough one. This is tough to make birdies. You’ve got to really grind, and for me I thought I hit the ball well today and I didn’t have a whole lot of putts from ten feet or 15 feet or in. It’s just hard to get the ball close.”
“(The course) does wear on you, because there’s no let up,” he added. That’s what I was explaining early in the week. There’s not one single hole where it’s a breather hole. We have two par 5s out there, and they’re so hard. Normally you have par 5s, a couple of easy short par 4s. You can make a mistake here or there, no big deal and you make it up. You can’t make it up here in this place.”
Tiger used more irons than drivers off the tee: “Today it was quicker and the tees were somewhat up from where we played our practice rounds. Consequently that’s 20 yards. 20 yards is a lot. And all of a sudden we’re in the steeper part of slopes or now we’re through doglegs. I had to make the adjustment.”
The guy to beat is American Michael Thompson. Thompson was on fire, dropping seven birdies, with three bogies. The 27-year-old Thompson needed only 22 putts on his way to his 4-under 66.
Are you rooting for Tiger? Be heard in the comments below…