Sabbatini said he wanted Woods in the final group every week. Told that Woods opened with a 75, Sabbatini said, "I want him to pick it up and we'll be up there late on Sunday."
Sabbatini, with three PGA Tour victories and a runner-up finish (with Woods) at the Masters last month, did his part. He chipped in for birdie on the 18th hole (he started at No. 10) for a rare birdie, and he was the only player among early starters to reach 6 under until dropping his only shot on No. 7, when he found a greenside bunker.
His obsession with Woods dates to a year ago, when Sabbatini won the Nissan Open. Woods withdrew on the weekend with the flu, although he was never in contention. Even so, Sabbatini said he had heard whispers that his victory at Riviera didn't mean much because Woods wasn't around, and he was eager to prove himself last week.
"When people play with Tiger, they stand and watch the show and not participate," Sabbatini said. "I'm not someone to watch the show. I'm there to participate and win. I want to be paired with Tiger in the last group on Sunday here this week."
Sabbatini has been brash before. He was so irritated by the slow pace of Ben Crane at a tournament two years ago that he walked off the green in protest. When he was paired with Nick Faldo at The Players last year, his wife wore a shirt that read, "Keep Up."
But the timing of Thursday's remarks were odd. Woods beat him by five shots last Sunday at Quail Hollow, and the world's No. 1 player has won nine of his last 12 starts on the PGA Tour.
What makes him so beatable?
"I've seen Tiger when he hits the ball well," Sabbatini said. "And I've seen Tiger when there's not a facet of his game that you're not amazed. But I think Sunday, he struggled out there. He had to battle for that win. And I think that made me realize ... he's as beatable as ever. I've seen him when he figures it out. It's scary. I don't want to see that anymore. I like the new Tiger."
Woods was long gone after Sabbatini's comments, and he didn't have much of an explanation.
The Stadium Course might look the same - that green on No. 17 is still an island - but the grass is now Bermuda because of a move to May, and Woods relies heavily on his memory to read greens. He felt these were different, and it showed.
He didn't hit too many wild shots, but he rarely hit the ball terribly close. He three-putted No. 16 for par, three-putted from the front of the green on No. 4 for bogey and added another three-putt bogey on No. 8.
"I had three three-putts today, and consequently 3-over par," Woods said. "Just got to make a few more putts."
It was a relatively quiet day for Mickelson, once he got by the 17th. He hit six balls in a practice round before hitting the island green, and he was as nervous as anyone standing on the tee. The wind was blowing hard into the players, yet there were brief moments when it would shift and blow sideways.
His 8-iron landed in the rough on the right side of the green, next to a sprinkler. He took a drop, made his par, and off he went. Mickelson is not shaping the ball as much as he used to, and it has taken him time to get comfortable aiming between the ropes. And he sometimes has tried to alter his swing to account for so much wind.
"I felt very good today," he said. "I hit a lot of good shots in some strong winds and was able to keep the ball in control. My misses were very small, and that allowed me to take a lot of the big trouble out of play that I had found in the past."