Sat, Mar 25, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Love leads as Woods struggles

AP , PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA

Davis Love III steered clear of trouble on the TPC at Sawgrass with seven birdies inside 10 feet for a 7-under 65 on Thursday, earning him a share of the first-round lead at the Players Championship with dinner partner Jim Furyk.

As Love navigated his way around the Stadium Course without a bogey in the morning, attention shifted to the parking lot when Woods showed up after a cross-country trip to California to visit his 74-year-old father, Earl Woods, who is battling cancer. Woods left Tuesday night not knowing if he would come back.

"He's fighting as hard as he can," Woods said. "It was good to see. At least he's trying to hang in there, which is a very positive sign."

Woods returned about 12 hours before his tee time, and his play was sporadic -- five birdies, five bogeys and a 72 that left him seven shots behind.

Sawgrass was relatively tame without much wind and the occasional drizzle that softened the greens, and it showed in a series of good scores and a bunched leaderboard.

Bernhard Langer continued his mastery of the island-green 17th, the most terrifying par 3 in golf, with his 20th career birdie that carried him to a 67, along with Robert Allenby and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Vijay Singh was bogey-free in his round of 68 that left him tied with a group that included Jose Maria Olazabal, Ben Crane and Pebble Beach winner Arron Oberholser.

"The course is there," Love said. "If you hit it in the fairways and putted, you were going to do well."

Furyk, who invited Love to dinner Wednesday night at his home nearby along with Brad Faxon (70), Phil Mickelson (70) and Justin Leonard (75), opened with seven pars before hitting a hybrid club into 20 feet on the 219-yard eighth hole and making birdie, then making a 25-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth to get him going.

It was the first time in 11 starts at The Players Championship that Furyk broke 70.

"There are times when you get off to a start like that, look up on the leaderboard and see guys getting off to a good start, and it's hard to stay patient," Furyk said. "I stayed patient, and just let it happen."

Mickelson had five birdies, but put his tee shot in the water at 15 for bogey, did the same on 17 for double bogey and wound up with a 70.

"Maybe Phil didn't eat enough," Love said.

Woods said he wasn't tired from his coast-to-coast trip in his private jet, and while he was thinking of his father, he had plenty of time to prepare for each shot. He just didn't hit them all very well.

"Unfortunately, my mechanics weren't very good," Woods said.

He played with Darren Clarke, whose wife, Heather, is dying from cancer that has spread throughout her body. Woods said they spoke about their situations throughout the round.

"It's just one of those things you deal with," Woods said. "Everyone has to deal with that at some point in their life, and unfortunately, right now it's our time."

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