PONTE VEDRA BEACH — Ian Poulter is enjoying his new digs — his newly built home and his spot atop the leaderboard Thursday in the Players Championship.
Poulter, finally finished with a house in the Lake Nona golf course community in Orlando that took nearly three years to build, ran off four birdies around the turn and birdied all the par 5s at TPC Sawgrass for 7-under 65 and a share of the lead with Martin Laird.
More than half the field broke par, but Tiger Woods was not close. He opened with bogey and was never under par in a round of 74. Coming off a missed cut last week in the Wells Fargo Championship, Woods was in jeopardy of missing consecutive cuts for the first time since turning pro in 1996 and leaving before the Players Championship is over for the third straight year.
"I just didn't score," Woods said. "It was frustrating in the sense that my good shots ended up in bad spots and, obviously, my bad shots ended up in worse spots. It should have been probably 1 or 2 under par. Any kind of momentum that I would build, I would shoot myself in the foot on the very next hole."
Fans who followed Woods included a woman who very loudly and repeatedly drawled, "Tiger, you're my baby doll."
Laird, playing in tougher afternoon conditions, was the only player without a bogey. He made birdie on his final hole.
"I knew I hadn't made a 5 all day, and that was kind of a little goal I had," said Laird, who finished on the par-5 ninth.
Poulter finally had his mind at ease after getting moved into his new home. It was good to think only about golf.
"It's no surprise to me to be fresh in the mind this week, to know that I'm finally in the house and I'm relaxed and the family is happy, and all of the hassle and stress is over and I can just go out and play golf," he said. "And I have felt relaxed this week."
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy was 2 under for his round until coming up just short of the island-green 17th and making double bogey. He shot 72. Phil Mickelson shot 71 in his first round after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this week.
The star group of the morning was Woods, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, the only player with two wins this year. Fowler failed to save par when missing greens and shot 72. Mahan hit two shots into the water on his way to 74.
Poulter's new home looks more like a hotel, and it took about as long to build. It became such a headache for him that when asked to go over the problems he had with contractors, Poulter looked at his watch and said, "How long you got?"
"I could write a book," he said.
With that out of the way, his mind was free for golf, on a course that seems to suit him well. He was runnerup three years ago, four shots behind Henrik Stenson. Thursday his birdie putts on the par 5s were all within about 5 feet. When he started missing greens on the back nine, he chipped close for par. He hit 9-iron to a front pin on the 17th to about 10 feet for birdie, then made it through the 18th without drama.
It's dangerous to look ahead, but Poulter was tempted, not so much for the crystal trophy but what he could do with the $1.71 million winner's check.
A new house, perhaps?
"I'll buy another car, for sure," he said. "Ferrari Enzo. Been looking for one of them for a while."
Ian Poulter 65 -7
Martin Laird 65 -7
Blake Adams 66 -6
Kevin Na 67 -5
Ben Crane 67 -5
Matt Kuchar 68 -4
Zach Johnson 70 -2
Phil Mickelson 71 -1
Rory McIlroy 72 E
Tiger Woods 74 +2
Today on TV: 1 p.m., Golf Channel
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