Ooooh, do the widdle biddy boys have to putt on the bumby wumpy gweens? Toooo bad.

Or, as Lee Trevino said to Ben Crenshaw after one of the world's best putters had missed a three-footer here at the Tournament Players Championship today, "Don't worry, Ben. It's tough to read dirt." No, the TPC wasn't tough enough. The alligators and snakes, the island greens and reedy lagoons, the pot and waste bunkers, the monolithic mounds and the precipitously undulating little target areas hereabouts weren't enough.

They had to go and kill the greens.

For those with a macabre sense of the appropriate, only one man deserved to be the first-round leader of the rich TPC this balmy day: Hale Irwin.

Take the putter out of the bag, they've said for 15 years, and Irwin could spot the world one a side. This morning, Irwin shot a 67 in which he sank only one putt longer than six feet, then looked back over his shoulder and saw 143 other fellas scratching their heads behind him.

Irwin, who leads Larry Rinker, Bernhard Langer, Morris Hatalsky and D.A. Weibring by one shot and Bobby Wadkins, Ronnie Black and Mark Brooks by two, ranks 153rd on the PGA Tour in putting statistics.

That's tough to do when you have one of the best green-side short games on earth and have as many makeable one-putt chances as two pros might. When 19th-hole discussions of outstanding players are conducted, Irwin always wins one award hands down: worst putter ever to win two U.S. Opens.

Irwin can hit shots with anybody, he'll battle you like a former all-Big Eight defensive back and he rarely rattles. But he just can't putt.

He's as bad with the blade as one can be and still be good. If greens were parking lots, he'd never lose. If they played the majors with temporary greens and two-foot-wide holes, Irwin, not Jack Nicklaus, would own MacGregor.

Welcome to the TPC, where your best chance to sink one from 20 feet is to pitch a wedge with a little backspin.

When you look at the star players bunched in prime striking range at 70 and 71 after this round, the common demominator is that they are all premier ball strikers, while few live by the putter. Curtis Strange, Tom Kite, Mark O'Meara and Calvin Peete are at 70; Nicklaus, Gil Morgan and Bruce Lietzke had 71s.

If you want to go broke, just spend a few weeks betting all comers even money that those seven guys will make their 10-footers. Okay, so Isao Aoki (70) and Tom Watson (71) contradict the trend. As Lanny Wadkins (80) put it, "If you hit it perfectly, it will go in."

Roll the ball over the middle of the hole here and gravity's got a chance, but play with the lips and you'll miss the cut.

Having a good touch here is like trying to crack a safe with gloves on. Seve Ballesteros four-putted from 20 feet and took his shattered nerves on a 76-shot tour. Or, as Gary McCord, the top-ranking putter on the Tour last season, said after his 86, "I started slowly and then tapered off."

Arnold Palmer, one-under par with two holes to go, finished double bogey-bogey to card a 74.

Even with the pins put in the easiest possible positions to compensate for the condition of the browns, scores were not particularly good. Pete Dye's fiendish subtropical house of horrors added one more legend late this afternoon as Phil Hancock came to the fourth hole (his 12th of the day) at one under par and proceeded to put three balls in the water for a 12 on the 360-yard par four.

Where can a Hancock buy octuple bogey insurance?

Actually, pretournament laments over the sparse, ugly greens calmed down to a low murmur of suppressed suffering by tee time. "Look, the greens are some of the worst," Trevino said, "but they're paying us so much money to play here that I'd putt on gravel if I had to."

If somebody forgets to turn on the watering system for a couple of days, these greens could be gravel. They seeded here with bentgrass last fall, and due to 7,146 exotic reasons, the old Bermuda has died and the new bentgrass hasn't arrived.

Talk about bent out of shape. Let's just say the TPC got a new course superintendent last month and leave it at that.

"The greens will be perfect next year," says the new man, Steve Durand.

Gooood. But what about this year, the pros want to know.

Meanwhile, Irwin is in heaven. He took last week off to play vegetable in Hawaii. "Maybe I took a mental sabbatical," he said.

He had a right. Even since fizzing away like a bicarbonate at the U.S. Open last summer, Irwin has been conspicuous by his absence. "It's difficult when you play with a swing that's not yours for nine or 10 months," said Irwin, not mentioning whose swing he borrowed.

"Last year at the Honda (tournament in March), I pulled a groin muscle and it bothered me a very long time . . . Before I hit every shot, I had to remind myself it was going to hurt. That gets a little old when it's part of your preswing routine. You ask yourself, 'Can I play again ?' Yes, I can still play."

Irwin served notice this morning with birdies at the second, third and fourth holes, two on short putts. After a bogey at the murderous eighth, a sand save at the ninth and a wedge for a birdie at the par-five 12th, he finished powerfully with a chip to the shadow of the flagstick for an easy birdie at the 16th and a 10-yard chip-in birdie at the last hole.

Irwin once blew a playoff chance at the British Open by whiffing a one-inch tap-in. Of course, the miss was carelessness, but veteran Irwin watchers said, "It had to happen. He's already missed every other kind."

When you play for 18 seasons with 13 clubs in your bag and everybody else has 14, it seems only fair that, just once, everybody else should have to learn how you've felt all along.