Woods is targeting a fourth Open Championship and could use the Irish Open as a warm-up before his crack at 15th Major golf title later in July.
Woods' big-name playing partner, Phil Mickelson, wasn't even average.
He might not have completed that, however Woods was nonetheless in a position to unleash a monster 349-yard drive on the par-five ninth as he bettered Mickelson like he did so many instances of their heyday.
Drains the putt. If there are good bogeys, that was one of them. Mickelson managed four birdies on his back nine Friday, but closed with three straight bogeys for a 73 that left him well off the cutline.
Then came 17, the famous island green par-3, where Mickelson dumped his wedge shot short of the green and into the water and took another double bogey.
"I said it Sunday at Wells Fargo [Championship], I was anxious about energy this week", said Mickelson, whose 79 was his worst score at TPC Sawgrass in 18 years.
We have to go out there and tear this place apart early on Friday. After a recent endorsement deal with dress shirt company Mizzen+Main, Mickelson appeared ready to play in a long-sleeved, button-down shirt for the first round, which, along with his score of 79 (seven-over par), was a topic of conversation. I've admired him for quite a while now and I just enjoy the way he plays golf.
On Sunday, the PGA Tour announced the marquee grouping of Woods, Mickelson and Fowler - a rare Woods-Mickelson matchup in the early rounds of a tournament. I think his chances of winning a major are maybe better than winning a regular event. I tried to offset it this week by taking it easy, not doing too much, and tried to eat right, tried to do all the right things to hopefully not have it be an issue.
"To be talked about as one of the best players or however you want to put it without a major, I think it's a compliment", Fowler said.