Who won the much-anticipated showdown between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the first round of The Players Championship?
The Players Championship is one of the biggest events on the golf calendar and annually features the biggest names in the sport. That being said, names don’t get much bigger than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, easily the two best players of their generation, and fans around the world rejoiced when it was announced that they would be paired together for the first two rounds at TPC Sawgrass.
Just to get this out of the way….yes, I’m fully aware that there were 142 other players teeing off on Thursday as well, including Rickie Fowler, who was in this supergroup with Tiger and Phil, but when Mickelson suggested that he and Woods have their own little competition, this was just too good to pass up.
This was the 36th time that Tiger and Phil have played together in competition and the first time they’ve teed it up together at The Players since the third round in 2001, the day that’s mainly remembered for Tiger’s “better than most” putt at the 17th.
As you can see, Tiger had a slight head-to-head advantage heading into this first round. Let’s take a look at how things played out on Thursday afternoon.
Phil Mickelson, who was wearing a shirt that didn’t quite seem right for Florida weather, was first to tee off at the 423-yard, par-4 first hole and hit his drive 311 yards down the left side into the dirt outline. With 112 yards left to the hole, he hit his approach to the fringe and was left with just under 18 feet for his birdie. He two-putted from there for an opening par.
Playing to a massive gallery, Tiger’s drive also went 311 yards but found the right rough. He hit his second to about 28 feet but left his birdie putt just a little short. A couple of ho-hum pars to start.
Still with the honor, Mickelson hit a 304-yard drive down the fairway at the par-5 second hole and was left with 235 yards to the hole. His second found the right rough just over 23 yards from the pin and he was left with just under 22 feet for birdie following his third, which he dropped for his first birdie of the day.
Tiger found some really bad luck off the tee as his 279-yard drive settled right behind a tree and he was forced to chip out with his second. He had 243 yards left for his third but still found the green in regulation and two-putted from 43 feet for his second consecutive par. No harm done.
Following his birdie at the 2nd, Mickelson was once again first to go at the third hole, a 177-yard par-3. Phil’s tee shot was safe enough, settling just under 22 feet from the hole. He left his birdie attempt a little short and tapped in for par to stay at 1-under.
Tiger hit a 9-iron off the tee but couldn’t find the green on what was playing as the third-toughest hole on the course. The distance was good but he found the second cut of rough off to the right. He hit a decent chip to just over five feet from the hole but left his par putt on the low side and tapped in for bogey. Phil now leads by 2.
Mickelson found the sand with his tee shot at the 384-yard, par-4 fourth hole but was still able to hit the green with his second shot and was left with just under 44 feet for birdie. He left himself about three feet for par and was able to knock it in to stay in the red.
Tiger hit a beautiful iron off the tee, 258 yards down the right side of the fairway. With 129 left to the pin, Woods hit a solid approach to about 22 feet, giving himself a good look at birdie. He rolled his putt on a perfect line but needed just another roll or two and had to settle for a par.
Mickelson sprayed his drive into the gallery at the fifth, the second-longest par-4 on the course at 471 yards, hitting an unsuspecting spectator. As usual, however, Phil made up for it and gave the guy a signed glove for his trouble.
Left with 210 yards to the hole, Mickelson once again went left and would need a great up-and-down to save par. His third shot settled just over 36 feet from the hole and he went on to two-putt to record his first bogey of the afternoon.
Tiger also couldn’t find the fairway off the tee, leaving his drive in the right rough near the bunker that runs right alongside the water. He had 185 yards to the flag but had a good lie. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take advantage and hit a 7-iron in the rough to the right of the green. He also couldn’t get up and in and also walked away with a bogey to stay two behind Mickelson.
Mickelson hit a low stinger off the tee at the par-4 sixth, which plays much shorter than the previous hole at 393 yards. After finding the fairway, Phil was left with just 108 yards to the hole and had to be disappointed when his ball settled nearly 34 feet away. A two-putt par and he’s still even on the day.
Tiger also hit a stinger drive down the fairway 277 yards. With just over 100 yards to the hole, Woods hit his best approach of the day to this point, his ball landing past the hole and backing up to 12 feet.
He hit another solid putt but just couldn’t get it to drop as it slid just to the right as it got the hole. Another par for Tiger.
Phil Mickelson found trouble off the tee at the 451-yard, par-4 seventh hole, landing in the fairway bunker to the left 264 yards away. With 189 yards left, he went bunker to bunker as his approach found the sand short and right. He hit his third to just under 15 feet but couldn’t convert the par putt and made his second bogey in three holes to go to 1-over on the day.
Tiger once again found the right rough off the tee with a 3-wood but still had a decent lie. He hit a 6-iron from 177 yards and left himself with a 25-footer for birdie. The speed was about perfect but the line was off and he tapped in for a par to remain at 2-over.
With the honor for the first time, Tiger Woods hit a solid 3-iron at the long par-3 eighth, leaving himself about 30 feet at the 237-yard hole. Another two-putt and another par.
Mickelson again found some sand with his tee shot, hitting the bunker on the left-hand side. However, he was able to recover nicely as his second settled just over five feet from the hole and he knocked in the par putt to maintain a one-shot lead on his rival, a lead that he wouldn’t have again for the rest of the afternoon.
Not only did Tiger Woods have the longest drive in the group at the par-5 ninth hole, but he had the longest drive of the day at 349 yards down the right side of the fairway, which was a very aggressive line to take.
With 240 yards to the hole, Woods hit his ball past the hole and just off the green to just over 18 feet from the hole and was finally able to get the big moment he’d been looking for all day as he rolled in his putt for an eagle to get back to even for the day.
Phil Mickelson certainly wouldn’t have the same kind of hole. It started out well enough with a 288-yard drive in the fairway. But then the Mickelson fun began. His second shot hit the cart path on the right, bounced up onto a spectator tent and back down into the rough. He then didn’t look like himself with the short game as he struggled to four more shots on the hole. Take a look.
Let’s take a look at the back nine.