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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rickie Fowler is typically upbeat no matter what score is on his card. He was all business Thursday after opening with a 3-under 69 in The Players Championship, especially when an anonymous survey was mentioned.
The anonymous survey of PGA Tour players, which Sports Illustrated has conducted for years, had Fowler and Ian Poulter tied for most overrated player on tour. Each received 24 percent of the vote.
Fowler is in his sixth year and has only two victories — the Wells Fargo Championship and the Korea Open. He finished in the top five last year at all four majors — only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have done that — though he was in serious contention only at the PGA Championship.
Asked if he was irritated by the survey, Fowler replied, "No."
Golfers are measured by their record. What was surprising about the survey is that Fowler conducts himself so well that is rarely criticized.
"It's fine by me," he said. "I'm going to try and play as well as I can this week, and I'm going to take care of my business."
Poulter has 15 victories worldwide, only one in America — the Match Play Championship in 2010. He seems to raise his game in the Ryder Cup, and he nearly single-handedly lifted Europe to a comeback at Medinah in 2012.
Poulter is used to the criticism, and after opening with a 71, he tweeted to Fowler, "A totally over rated round of golf again. ... You are (expletive). ... 24%."
Fowler responded to him, "too bad we had to tie at 24%. ... wish one of us could have gotten 1 more vote to claim the title. ... I'd vote for you."
Before his interview ended, Fowler was asked if winning received more attention than consistency.
"I guess top-fives in four majors aren't that good," he said. "Like I said, I'll take care of my business and I'll be just fine."
BRUTAL FINISH: The 18th hole at the TPC Sawgrass was the fourth-toughest last year at The Players Championship.
It's already off to a bad start.
With a northerly wind, rare for early May, the hole played to an average of 4.65. There are still three rounds to go, but the toughest hole on the PGA Tour all of last season was No. 5 at Cherry Hills (BMW Championship) at an average of 4.483.
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods went into the water one group apart and each made a double bogey.
Brooks Koepka made a quadruple bogey.
It sure didn't feel that way to Sean O'Hair, who hit is approach to 10 inches for a birdie. That wasn't much of a consolation. He shot 76.
HOT STREAK: Derek Fathauer and Rickie Fowler were the only players to reach 6-under par at any point Thursday. Fowler promptly made a double bogey at No. 3 (this 12th hole) and finished with a bogey for a 69.
Fathauer made an eagle on the par-5 second, a birdie at No. 3 and then he holed a wedge for eagle at No. 4. He had a chance for the outright lead until closing with a pair of bogeys and three pars for a 68.
WATER BALLS: There were 20 tee shots that found the water on the island-green 17th hole Thursday, plus another one by Brooks Koepka from the drop zone.
The final hole was even worse, with 22 tee shots into the water and a total of 28 for the par 4.
But this might be the strangest part of Thursday — a tee shot in the water all the par 3s. The 17th has an island green. The 13th has water down the entire left side. But the par 3s on the front nine ordinarily don't have water come into play.
Darren Clarke pulled his tee shot so far left on No. 3 that it went into the water. The strangest shot was Tiger Woods at No. 8, whose tee shot was such a clunker that it went into a creek some 40 yards short of the green. Woods said later he didn't even know it was there.
STRICKER STREAK: Steve Stricker arrived at The Players Championship with a little rust and a lot of irritation.
Even when he's recovering from hip surgery, and even with his limited schedule, Stricker hates missing the cut. That's what happened the last time he played two weeks ago New Orleans, ending a streak of 36 in a row dating to The Players three years ago.
"That irritated me a lot," Stricker said — with a smile — after opening with a 69 at the TPC Sawgrass. "I don't like to miss cuts. Nobody does out here. I had a nice streak of them going, and I knew it was going to be tough. I thought if I was going to miss a cut, it was going to be at Augusta right away, but I ended up making it there."
The Masters was his first PGA Tour event since the PGA Championship in August because of hip surgery. Stricker said he's still not at full strength, and that it's difficult to practice for more than two or three days without getting tired.
As for that cut streak?
It's kind of nice to get that over with, not having to worry about something as little as that and try to play your game," he said.
And yes, it was little. The streak ended a mere 106 cuts short of the record that Tiger Woods set from 1998 to 2005. Given his limited schedule, Stricker probably would have had to play nine more years to get that.
DIVOTS: Nick Watney had a 64 in the opening round of 2011 for the 18-hole lead. That was the last time he broke 70 at The Players Championship. He opened with a 78 on Thursday. ... Marc Leishman opened with a 69, and the best part was the 18th hole. He made a par, but saw wife Audrey sitting on the hill. She nearly died from an series of illnesses just over a month ago and now is strong enough to get out to the golf course. "From where she's come from about a month ago — it didn't look like she was going to be around — to seeing her up on the back of the green when I'm playing, that's pretty special," Leishman said. "I took that for granted a little bit. Definitely not anymore." ... The Memorial announced Thursday that Masters champion Jordan Spieth has committed to play at Muirfield Village. That means Spieth will have played six times after the Masters and before the U.S. Open.