Woods forgets problems to repair record in 'fifth major'

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The Independent Online

It would be insensitive to suggest that the sighs of the television executives were only rivalled for volume here by those of Tiger Woods' rivals yesterday when the world No 1 marched on to the driving range at the first day of The Players Championship yesterday.

After all, professional golf really is one big family and hearts genuinely went out to the 30-year-old who missed his main practice round on Wednesday to make the round trip to California to be with his ailing father, Earl.

But still, it was easy to detect a frisson of excitement, not to mention tension, as the world No 1 alleviated fears of a withdrawal by announcing his presence on the first tee with the biggest cheer of the day. It was a sight for Sawgrass eyes if ever there was one.

Woods never needs added motivation, although that was not stopping America dipping deep into the syrup. "He wants to win for his Dad," said Johnny Miller, the former major winner and voice of ESPN. Perhaps, but Tiger Woods was gunning first and foremost to win this for Tiger Woods. His "fifth major" record of one win in nine previous outings obviously bothers him if his meticulous preparations - dash to his father's bedside aside, of course - are to go by.

In an effort to have everything exactly as he likes it, Woods had scoured the Jacksonville area for a hotel that would accommodate him, wife Elin - and his dog, Taz. Alas, the border collie pup, a 30th birthday present from Elin in December, was not deemed a suitable guest in Florida's finest establishments. So Woods did the obvious thing. He had his 155ft, $15m (£8.6m) yacht "Privacy" sailed to Jacksonville Beach for the family - and pooch - to stay in.

It served as yet another indicator that the game's greatest competitor will stop at little to get his way and no doubt mindful of this mercifully present danger, two of his most enduring peers set out their stalls early. Just as Woods was birdieing his second hole, Davis Love and Jim Furyk were both finishing off their seven-under rounds of 65.

It was an imposing mark and one that Britain's morning hopes could not quite rise to. Colin Montgomerie played well enough but left a number of putts out there in his 72 on the beautifully slick greens. Not nearly as many as Ian Poulter, though. The 30-year-old from Milton Keynes needs a top-three finish here to qualify for the Masters in two weeks' time, but his own opening level par round already makes that unlikely. And Poulter knows it.

"I feel like taking my putter to the car-park and giving it a damn good thrashing," he barked in full Basil Fawlty mode. "I would go back to my hotel room and practice my putting there all night. But I'm so off target I'm scared I might smash the room up."

The Players Championship (Sawgrass): Leading early first-round scores (US unless stated): 65 J Furyk, D Love; 67 R Allenby (Aus); 68 A Oberholser, B Crane; 69 J Durant, R Mediate; 70; B Davis (GB), B Faxon, P Mickelson, S Garcia (Sp), J Daly, F Funk; 71 J Brehaut, D Wilson, M Hensby (Aus), D Duval, R Beem; 72 S Leaney (Aus), I Poulter (GB), D Barron, J Parnevik (Swe), M Campbell (NZ); 73 D Hart, J Maggert, R Imada (Japan), B Bryant; Withdrew: S Elkington (Aus).