PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods is following a similar path that has been part of his history at TPC Sawgrass and also in limited starts this year on the PGA Tour: an inability to get off to a fast start.
Woods battled back from some early-round struggles to shoot a 2-under-par 70 in the opening round of the Players Championship on Thursday, but it was the fourth time in four tournaments in 2019 that he failed to break 70 in the opening round and 17th time in 18 Players tournaments that he did not shoot in the 60s on the first day.
"I felt like I could have gotten something in the 60s today and got off to not the best of starts,'' Woods said. "I hit some bad shots early, rectified that, made a few adjustments, and then went about my business. And then the back nine, there's nine holes on the back nine, made one par, so that was interesting.''
Woods had five birdies and three bogeys over the closing nine holes, including a deflating 5 at the par-4 18th after he birdied the 16th and 17th holes to get to 3-under for his round.
After a good drive, Woods had 194 yards in and just saw his approach trickle over the green, from where he chipped it to 7 feet and missed the putt.
It was Woods' first tournament since he tied for 10th three weeks ago at the WGC-Mexico Championship, where he had the second of consecutive poor putting events.
He skipped last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational because of a neck strain that he downplayed. "No, I'm all good with that,'' he said.
As for the putting woes, Woods had another set of eyes with him this week, instructor Matt Killen who worked with him for a few days at home before coming to the Players.
Although Woods took 30 putts, he said he felt better on the greens.
"I felt like I rolled it today,'' he said. "I felt like I was able to get up there, and I felt comfortable. I was able to rip it, and it felt pretty good.
"It wasn't like I had to do a lot. I just got back into something I do naturally. I putt with the toe moving and toe releasing. My [putter] face moves a lot more than most players do, and we just went back to that. I feel like I can go ahead and hit it with my right hand again. That's how I've always putted. I always had a lot of hit in my stroke, and that felt good again.''
The rest of Woods' game was mediocre. He hit 9 of 14 fairways but was just 49th in the field in strokes gained, off the tee; and just 79th in strokes gain, tee to green. He was also 88th in strokes gain, approach to the green, as he hit 12 of 18 greens.
When he went to the first tee for his afternoon time, he already trailed Fleetwood -- who had finished -- by seven strokes. Scoring conditions got progressively harder in the afternoon and Fleetwood's lead held up until Bradley matched him late in the day.
"I felt very calm and this is a course that can make you very uncomfortable,'' Bradley said. "So when you have that feeling you can really go a long way. This is a course that can go in a lot of different directions.''