Phil Mickelson Mickelson, Sabbatini roll to first-round lead at The Players Championship while Tiger tumbles

Phil Mickelson's work with new swing coach Butch Harmon showed promise on Thursday, as Phil Mickelson fired a 67 to hold a share of the lead following the first round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Continuing his red-hot play was Rory Sabbatini, who shares the lead with Mickelson, and has been drawing as much notice for his comments as his sizzling play.

Struggling with windy conditions and tricky greens was Tiger Woods, who struggled home with a 75, leaving him eight shots off the lead and mired in 58th place. Defending champion Stephen Ames also struggled, carding a 77 and leaving himself work to do to make it into weekend play to defend his title.

Sabbatini unafraid of Tiger Woods

Sabbatini is coming off three consecutive top-3 finishes, including a runner-up finish at the Masters. After the first round of The Players Championship, his confidence was soaring, and he told reporters that he didn't even have much fear of Woods these days.

"The funny thing is after watching him play on Sunday, I think he's more beatable than ever," said Sabbatini. "I think there's a few fortuitous occasions out there that really changed the round for him. And realizing that gives me even more confidence to go in and play with him on Sunday again."

Mickelson started the day with two pars and never seemed to allow the wind to affect his game. Afterward, Mickelson told reporters that he was enjoying working with Harmon.

"I have been entertained quite a bit with some great stories. He's a great story teller; that's probably the biggest thing," said Mickelson. "There's always a point to the stories; you know, whether they're about his dad or other players, they always have a point. I find that very interesting. It's a fun way to learn."

Despite his high score, Woods said he felt as though he played well, except when he had a putter in his hand, as three three-putts saw his score balloon. Woods said patience and putting could bring him back into contention.

"Just keep doing like what I did today, stay patient, hit the ball as consistently as I did all day. Just got to make a few more putts," said Woods. "(The) greens are a little bit tricky to read, different grain out there than we're used to, and I had a tougher time than the guys at the top of the board."

Chris DiMarco shot a 68 for his best round of the year to be a shot off the lead, while Peter Lonard fired a 69 on a day that only 16 players broke par and only Retief Goosen played without a bogey.

The story for Day One, however, was Sabbatini, whose inspired play has led to an obvious increase in confidence, leading him to call out the world's No. 1 player.

""When people play with Tiger, they stand and watch the show and not participate," said Sabbatini. "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."

May 11, 2007

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