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Tiger advances at Match Play; Lefty, Furyk falter

MARANA, Ariz. -- One by one, the biggest names headed for
the airport Thursday until Tiger Woods was the only player among
the top eight seeds remaining at the Accenture Match Play
Championship.

Phil Mickelson had designs on a comeback until Justin Rose
scrambled backward out of the desert and made a 30-foot par putt to
halve the 15th hole, leaving Lefty looking like a batter frozen by
a 3-2 curve that dropped over the plate.

Jim Furyk backed off a 7-foot birdie putt three times and still
went wide left, losing on the 19th hole to Chad Campbell. Vijay
Singh celebrated his 44th birthday with birdies on his last two
holes to extend his match, then missed a 6-foot birdie on the 19th
hole and lost to Stephen Ames.

Woods had an easy time against Tim Clark.

And suddenly, his path to an eighth straight PGA Tour victory
looks a whole lot easier.

"I played better than I did yesterday, which is great," Woods
said after making birdie on half his holes in a 5-and-4 victory.
"Do a little bit of practice this afternoon and solidify some
things, and tomorrow, hopefully I can play even better."

But Woods, a two-time winner of this fickle event, knows not to
look too far ahead.

Next up is Nick O'Hern, a short but straight-hitting Australian
who beat Woods in the second round two years ago at La Costa. Still
in Woods' side of the bracket is Henrik Stenson, who won in Dubai
earlier this month when Woods finished two shots behind. Another
winner was Trevor Immelman, the last player to win a PGA Tour event
that Woods played -- the Western Open last July.

And as well as Woods has played for two rounds -- he is one of
five players who has never trailed this week -- there's always
tomorrow.

"I've never played a match play event where all six rounds I've
played great golf," he said. "You're going to have one or two
rounds where you're not going to play well. You've just got to get
through those matches. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't."

Mickelson didn't.

His West Coast Swing ended in a 3-and-1 loss to that featured a
dramatic shift in momentum. Rose was 1-up when he pulled his tee
shot into the desert brush and had no choice but to pitch out
backward, and had to hit his third shot to the green before
Mickelson hit his second. And when Mickelson two-putted for par, he
figured the match would be all square.

Rose's putt dropped on the final turn, and everything changed.

"It looked like all I had to do was make par and the match
would be even," Mickelson said. "That hurt the most."

His plan was to hit first on the par-3 16th to the middle of the
green, away from what he called a "carnival" pin cut atop a slope
that fed off the green in two directions. Rose did the honors, and
Mickelson felt he had to go after the flag. His 9-iron was about 10
feet long, enough to tumble off the green.

His next-to-impossible chip hit the hole, but trickled off the
front of the green. His 25-foot par putt caught the lip and stayed
out. And when Mickelson failed to birdie the par-5 17th, he removed
his visor and conceded the match.

It was the first time in five years he failed to get to the
third round.

Why not play it safe on the 16th and take his chances on the
final two holes?

"The 17th was a hole we both would probably birdie," Mickelson
said. "And I didn't want to leave it up to 18."

Instead he was leaving, with Furyk, Singh, Retief Goosen and
Luke Donald not far behind.

Goosen rallied from three holes down against Niclas Fasth, but
the Swede birdied the 17th and held on for a 1-up victory. Donald
might have been the most surprising loss, as he was 3-up until
Aaron Baddeley won four of the last six holes, only twice with a
birdie.

Campbell came up big on the 18th hole for the second straight
day. In the opening round, he holed a 25-foot birdie putt to put
away Angel Cabrera. This time, the Texan made birdie from 18 feet
to force extra holes, and beat Furyk with a two-putt birdie.

Woods made sure there was no drama in his match against Clark,
who is recovering from a neck injury and was playing his first
tournament since last October.

Woods won the first two holes with a two-putt birdie and a bogey
by Clark at No. 2, then poured it with three straight birdie putts.
When he drove to the front of the 12th green for his seventh birdie
of the round, and Clark missed a 4-footer, Woods was 6-up and
counting the holes until it was over.

"I played well today. I put a lot of pressure on Timmy," Woods
said. "He's still a little bit hurt. But I just wanted to put as
much pressure as I possibly could on him and not give him any holes
with bogeys. I did that today. I made a few putts, and Tim made a
couple mistakes. And basically, I ended up having a pretty
good-sized lead early in the match."

It was the shortest match of the day, although equally
impressive was Charles Howell III. Coming off his playoff victory
at Riviera, Howell didn't miss a shot until the 13th hole, and by
then he already had a 4-up lead on Sergio Garcia. He won, 4 and 3,
atoning a second-round loss to Garcia in 2002 and advancing to the
third round for the first time.

In 51 matches as a professional, including exhibitions, Woods
has never lost to the same player twice. That streak -- the only one
that matters at this stage in the tournament -- will be tested
Friday, when rain and wind is in the forecast.

"I'm sure he will obviously take positive vibes from what he
did the last time we played," Woods said. "But the whole idea is
you've got to play well."