Woods, Mickelson Advance in Match Play
Thursday, February 22nd 2007, 6:18 am
By: News On 6
MARANA, Ariz. (AP) _ On a course where it was important not to fall behind, Tiger Woods found himself among the cactus and desert shrub left of the second fairway looking for an escape. His opponent already was on the green, 12 feet away for birdie.
``It looked like he was going to take a 1-up lead and get some momentum on his side early,'' Woods said. ``And it just never happened.''
Woods went from the desert to the fairway and made a 20-foot par putt to halve the hole, setting the tone for a 3-and-2 victory over Ryder Cup teammate J.J. Henry in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
One match down, five to go if the world's No. 1 player wants to stretch his PGA Tour winning streak to eight.
After one round at The Gallery, it figures to be a wild ride.
For the second straight year, the shortest day belonged to Stephen Ames. He was on the losing end of a record rout by Woods last year at La Costa, but experienced the flip side of this fickle tournament by making seven birdies in 11 holes to bury Robert Karlsson of Sweden, 8 and 7.
Seven matches went the distance, including fourth-seeded Phil Mickelson holding off fellow lefty Richard Green of Australia.
Four matches went overtime, none more shocking than No. 3 seed Adam Scott making a birdie on the 18th hole to extend his match, only to three-putt the 21st hole to lose to Shaun Micheel.
Jim Furyk, the No. 2 seed, was trailing at the turn until he ran off three straight birdies and outlasted Brett Quigley, 2 and 1.
And while the Match Play left soggy San Diego for the high desert north of Tucson, that didn't help Ernie Els. For the fifth time, the Big Easy was ousted in the first round, making only one birdie in his 4-and-3 loss to Bradley Dredge.
Thomas Bjorn of Denmark summed it up for 31 other guys headed for the airport after losing, 6 and 5, to Trevor Immelman.
``Disappointed to come all the way for that,'' he said.
Woods was 5 under in the 16 holes he played, making only one bogey. But it was a tougher day than the result showed.
``It was actually a pretty tight match,'' Woods said. ``J.J. hit a lot of beautiful putts in the middle part of the round and even on the back nine, and those putts just didn't go in. Had they gone in it might have been a different story.''
Woods advanced to face Tim Clark of South Africa, a 3-and-2 winner over Robert Allenby.
Some feel this might be the toughest hurdle in Woods' unlikely quest to win 11 straight PGA Tour events, the record Byron Nelson set over five months in 1945. But on a warm day of swirling wind in the high desert _ and on The Gallery course with pins tucked close to the edge of greens _ he did himself a favor by not getting behind.
But there was that close call.
Woods pulled his tee shot into the desert on the second hole and was lucky to have a play. He hit the ball short of the green, and his pitch stayed on the front of the green some 20 feet from the hole. Henry, meanwhile, had a 12-foot birdie putt and was poised to go 1-up.
Woods made the putt and Henry missed his for a halve, although it felt like more than that to Woods.
Two holes later, Woods won with a par and never trailed.
``Hitting the ball in the desert like this, it's pot luck,'' Woods said. ``I had a shot. More than likely, I should have been in a bush or some kind of unplayable (lie), and J.J. should have won the hole with a 4. But I got lucky, got a break and was able to make a putt.''
He was 2-up until the 14th, when his 8-iron spun back within a foot of the cup for birdie. From there, it was a matter of when Henry would run out of holes.
Ames ran out of holes quickly, only this time he left the course with a smile.
Ames, who grew up in Trinidad & Tobago and now lives in Calgary, didn't even realize he had won the match after chipping in for birdie on the 11th and final hole. Then he called his wife, who was surprised to hear from him so soon.
Ames said the conversation went like this:
``You're done?'' she said.
``Yeah. I played 11 holes,'' he replied.
``I won't be coming home tonight,'' he said.
And he said there was a simple explanation for the sudden turnaround.
``It's nice to be out of Carlsbad,'' Ames said. ``I saw the ball going in the hole for a change, rather than bouncing.''
Ames had never made it out of the first round in two previous tries, and he must have wondered whether that streak would continue when he picked up a bad cold last week in Riviera and felt miserable during his practice rounds.
The shotmaking lifted his spirits, for sure.
``I didn't know what to expect because of the way I felt,'' said Ames, who will face Vijay Singh in the second round. ``I went through my normal routine _ see a shot, hit a shot kind of thing.''
Eight of the top 10 seeds advanced, although Padraig Harrington (No. 10) had to go 19 holes against Lee Westwood, and Henrik Stenson birdied two of his last three holes to knock out Zach Johnson.
Mickelson, coming off a victory at Pebble Beach and a playoff loss at Riviera, was surprised to see the pins tucked on the corners, especially on smooth greens that dropped off at the edges.
``I thought they were ridiculous,'' Mickelson said. ``But everyone had to play them, so it was fair. You couldn't play aggressively. You had to play defensively away from the flags.''
That worked out for him, though, when he holed a 35-foot birdie on the 13th hole to square the match, then won the 14th and 16th with pars and hung on for the victory.