DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Jeev Milkha Singh is from India. Retief Goosen, South Africa. Prayad Marksaeng, Thailand. And Phil Mickelson, of course, hails from the United States.
Maybe that’s why they call this a World Golf Championship.
Those four players from three continents – four, really, since Singh’s home base now is London – shared the lead after Thursday’s first round of the CA Championship, all shooting 7-under 65s on Doral’s famed Blue Monster. Singh and Goosen got rolling with three straight birdies after the turn, Marksaeng closed his day with three in a row, and Mickelson joined the party by chipping in on his final two holes.
Oh, and Tiger Woods is looming in his first stroke-play event since last year’s stirring U.S. Open victory.
A tournament that touts itself as having one of the very best fields in golf is living up to that billing so far.
“It’s nice to see everyone here,” said South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, who shot 67.
Just about everyone still has a shot, too.
Singh, who has never finished better than a tie for ninth on the PGA Tour, had eight birdies and a bogey. Goosen made just one real mistake all day, a bogey at the par-4 18th, his ninth hole of the opening round. Marksaeng met the same fate at 18, with that hole the lone blemish on his card.
And Mickelson vaulted up the leaderboard, making seven birdies in his last 10 holes. He made double-bogey at the par-4 third, hit into the water at the par-3 fourth hole before chipping in there, then chipped in again on 17 and 18 to cap his day.
“I felt going into this tournament that I was playing as well as I ever have as far as I can remember,” Mickelson said. “From 50 yards in, my short game has never been this good and I’ve never driven the ball this long and this straight without the fear of a big miss. My iron play is better than it has been in quite some time. And I expect that to improve as the week goes on.”
Someone else who expects to improve as the week goes on?
Woods, of course.
His surgically repaired knee wasn’t a problem, he said. The same wasn’t the case for his putter.
Woods missed 10 of 11 putts from outside of 10 feet, saying at least three of them lipped out. The end result was a 71, putting him six shots back on a course where he’s prevailed in three of his previous four visits.
“It’s just one of those things that we all know playing the game of golf, you are going to have days like today,” Woods said. “I would be obviously a little bit more disappointed, a little more frustrated if I had not played well. I felt like I hit the ball well, hit putts well, but they just didn’t go in. … Those putts go in (Friday) and the score will be a little different.”
There was a group of four players one shot off the lead, including British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who didn’t feel as though he did much of anything right and had his best score of the year.
“I think I hit two fairways with my driver today. So it’s not like I played good golf or anything like that,” Harrington said. “It was all about the score.”
Sean O’Hair began his round with consecutive eagles and was among the group at 67, as was Camilo Villegas, the Colombian who’s always a fan-favorite in South Florida. Henrik Stenson (69) played a shot from the mucky water on the third hole after taking off everything but his boxer shorts and his golf glove.
“For the love of the game,” Stenson said.
Mickelson shot 3-3-3 on his final three holes, all of them thanks to his chipping. His short game is generally considered one of the best – if not the very best – in the game, and it was on full display Thursday.
After trying to drive the 355-yard 16th hole, he pitched up to 3 feet for birdie. Then he chipped in from short of the green on the 17th, and made it three straight birdies by chipping in from about 25 feet on the 18th.
“It was just nice to see the ball go in the hole,” Mickelson said.
Woods wished he could say the same.
When he returned to competition after his eight-month hiatus from knee surgery, he only had to worry about beating one player at a time in the Accenture Match Play Championship. Stroke play is about posting a score and maneuvering his way up the leaderboard.
But outside of a pair of birdie tap-ins Thursday, he didn’t have much to maneuver with.
“I was trying to figure it out, how to get the ball in the hole a little bit faster than what I was doing,” Woods said.
There’s still plenty of time – but with nearly half the field already ahead of him after 18 holes, Woods would obviously prefer to turn things around quickly.
“I just need to be a touch sharper,” Woods said.