Accenture Match Play

Feb 24, 2011 10:56 AM

Tiger takes a bad detour in the desert

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) - Tiger Woods took a beating just about everywhere at the Match Play Championship - from Rory McIlroy in the media center, from ex-swing coach Hank Haney on Twitter and from Thomas Bjorn on the golf course.

Nothing annoyed him more than losing on the course.

Nothing was more stunning than the way he lost.

Down to his last shot Wednesday afternoon, Woods delivered a vintage moment when he buried an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to extend the match. Momentum on his side, he strode to the tee and stood over a 3-wood when he backed off to rehearse his swing.

"I was trying to hit a ball in play," Woods said. "The fairway is what? Two hundred yards wide? And I can't even put the ball in the fairway. That's very disappointing."

And so ended another chapter in his recovery, this one the shortest of all. Woods arrived at Dove Mountain about noon on Tuesday and was on his way home after about 30 hours.

Only he knows where he will play next. Not even he can tell how he will play.

The Accenture Match Play Championship will get on without him, as it always does, because the format is as compelling as the players. And the rest of the top players managed to get on just fine.

Lee Westwood, the No. 1 player in the world, never trailed in beating Henrik Stenson in 16 holes. PGA champion Martin Kaymer sure looked like the "Germanator" with the shortest match of the opening round, 7 and 6, over 19-year-old Seung-yul Noh.

The lone American left among the top 10 seeds was Phil Mickelson, who wasn't even going to play in this World Golf Championship until two weeks ago and looked as though he made the right decision. He won, 6 and 5, over Brendan Jones of Australia.

Lost in the dramatic departure of Woods was 17-year-old Matteo Manassero of Italy becoming the youngest winner in this tournament, with a 2-and-1 win over Steve Stricker; Ernie Els finally have an overtime match go his way; and Stewart Cink not leading until he won on the 19th hole against Ian Poulter, the first defending champion to lose in the opening round in nine years.

Bjorn only qualified for this tournament a few weeks ago after winning the Qatar Masters, which is more than what Woods has won over the last 15 months and counting.

He and Woods have been friends for years, and no one spoke more articulately about Woods than the Dane. Oddly enough, the only other time they went head-to-head was 10 years ago at the Dubai Desert Classic. They were in the same group for 72 holes, and Bjorn won when Woods took double bogey on the last hole.

That's how it ended Wednesday.

Woods took four shots to reach the green on the par-4 first hole - the first extra hole of their match - and when Woods badly missed an 18-foot bogey putt, he removed his cap and shared what looked like a heartfelt moment with Bjorn.

Woods did most of the listening.

"That's between me and Tiger," Bjorn said when asked about their conversation. "But what I will say is that the game of golf needs him back at his best. And I've always been a great friend of his, and we've always had a good relationship. And I want to see him back at his best because I think it's much more fun to go up against him when he's absolutely at his peak. And so it was things down that line."

Woods clearly isn't at his best at the moment.

McIlroy seized on that during a playful moment after his 4-and-2 victory over Jonathan Byrd. He was asked about the youth movement, specifically Manassero's big win over Stricker. The 21-year-old McIlroy said young players believe they are good enough to compete with likes of Woods, Mickelson, Stricker and Jim Furyk, who also lost his opening match.

"I mean, I don't think Tiger and Phil have got any ... well, yeah, I mean I don't think Phil has gotten any worse," McIlroy said as the room filled with chuckles. "Tiger isn't as dominant as he used to be, and Phil won the Masters last year."

It was true - at least for the moment - but another sign that players no longer treat Woods with such reverence.

Then came a tweet right after the match from Haney, with whom Woods split up last May.

"For all the talk of Tiger's poor driving the last 6 years I have never seen him drive it out of play with a match or tournament on the line," Haney said on Twitter.

Bjorn only made it through 13 holes the last two times he played, and he had to face Woods in the opening round.

"That's one person you don't want to play, because you don't know what's coming at you," Bjorn said.

How true that was.

He saw Woods dump a shot into the water and made double bogey on No. 3, and hit a tee shot into the desert. He also saw Woods get comfortable with his game and win three straight holes around the turn to take the lead.

"I saw that spring in his step and that worried me a little bit," Bjorn said.

But with Woods, one can never know what to expect - especially the last hole. The fairway is wide enough, although the hole location to the back left rewards a tee shot down the right side. That's where Woods was trying to hit it.

It didn't quite work out.

"I think in his mind he had a great idea of what he wanted to
do," Bjorn said. "And sometimes, they don't come off the way they want to. That's the way it is."

And that's the way it was.

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