CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Six matches had to go extra holes in a thrilling opening round at the Match Play Championship.
Tiger Woods is grateful his match was not among them.
"It was close," Woods said, finally allowing himself a smile
after a 1-up victory.
Woods faced a first-round elimination for the second time in
three years when he let John Rollins off the hook early, fell
behind in the middle and found himself grinding to make pars just
to stay in the game.
Rollins was 1-up and safely on the green, but had a bad feeling
as he looked across the fairway as Woods stood over an 8-iron from
171 yards away.
"I told my caddie that he's due any minute to hit one of his
towering shots that sit right by the flag," Rollins said. "He
must have heard me. I know that's when he shines. That's what a
Indeed, Woods is the defending champion at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
And when his 8-iron plopped 18 inches behind the cup, hopped and spun slightly to within 2 feet for birdie, he evened the match. It
came down to a battle of wedges on the par-5 18th, and Rollins
Woods hit into 20 feet, far from his best, but Rollins tried
to land his shot beyond the flag and spin it back to the hole, and
it went too far and into the bunker.
It was a birdie-birdie finish for Woods, bogey-bogey for
"I feel bad for the way he ended up," Woods said.
Save the sympathy for so many others.
"I was beating myself again, and I'm good at that at this
tournament," Montgomerie said. "Then I holed a 25-footer at the
16th, and that seemed to ... you know how it is in match play.
Well, you probably don't. That's why you're there, and I'm here."
Brad Faxon was 4 under on the day, a good score at a La Costa course teeming with wet, 4-inch rough. He had the lead four times, and never trailed. And when it was over, Steve Flesch holed an
18-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole for the victory.
"I'm not disappointed how I played. I'm disappointed that I
lost," Faxon said. "I didn't deserve to lose."
Ian Poulter never made a birdie and was 3 over, but he's not
headed home. The Englishman wound up a 1-up winner over Chris Riley, who had another key putt horseshoe out of the hole, just as
it did two weeks ago down the street at Torrey Pines when he lost
to John Daly in a playoff.
Darren Clarke was on his way out the door, 1-down to Eduardo Romero on the 18th hole, when he bumped a 9-iron from short of the green and watched it bang into the pin and drop for eagle. That allowed him to continue the match, although Clarke had no idea it
would take another hour to settle the score.
He finally beat Romero on the 25th hole when the Argentine made bogey.
Others had a far easier time.
Vijay Singh, Mike Weir, Kenny Perry and Phil Mickelson were
among the top seeds to coasted into the second round Thursday.
Davis Love III had to work against Briny Baird, winning 2-up. David Toms, in his second tournament since wrist surgery, outlasted
Niclas Fasth in 19 holes.
Another surprising winner was Jerry Kelly.
Sergio Garcia was 2-up at the turn and played the back nine in 1
under. Kelly, however, made four birdies in a five-hole stretch for
a 1-up victory.
When it was over, Kelly summed up the first round of this
"It's kill or be killed every single day," he said. "You can
get the pressure of winning a tournament every day, and you don't
get that in a normal tournament, because you don't have a chance to
win if you don't get past your day."
In that respect, Woods was lucky to still be around.
The only surprise was that there weren't many. Eighteen holes of
match play is so unpredictable that it becomes nothing more than a
free-for-all over five days, where anyone can beat anybody.
The consolation prize for the 32 losers was a $35,000 check. The other 32 survive to play another day, all of them still dreaming of
a seven-figure check on Sunday.
Woods plays Trevor Immelman of South Africa, while Singh takes on Kelly, which might be an interesting match since Singh fired
caddie Paul Tesori last year and Tesori is now on Kelly's bag.
The other intriguing matches: Love and Fred Couples,
best friends who dueled in the early '90s; and Mickelson against
British Open champion Ben Curtis, who manages to play his best when
no one gives him a chance.