Tiger Could be in for Another Short Week

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2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayCARLSBAD, Calif. -- Tiger Woods had a short stay at Riviera, withdrawing after two rounds with the flu.
 
This week might be even shorter.
 
No other tournament is more unpredictable than the Match Play Championship, which starts Wednesday with 64 players and will be whittled in half after one day with no regard to ranking. Woods knows both sides of the equation, having won this World Golf Championship twice, and having been eliminated in the first round in 2002 by Peter O'Malley.
 
'It's the final round on the first day, because anything can happen at any time,' Woods said Tuesday. 'You never know what you're going to get. You have to play your best and beat the guy you're playing against.'
 
Step one is getting past Stephen Ames, who got into the field as the No. 64 seed when Thomas Bjorn withdrew. Woods is the No. 1 seed, followed by Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.
 
It will be the last time the Accenture Match Play Championship is held at La Costa Resort, known lately as 'Lake La Costa' because the fairways are better suited for kayak races with only a little rain. The tournament is expected to move next year to The Gallery in Tucson, Ariz.
 
Woods was asked what he will miss about La Costa, and it was a struggle to find an answer.
 
OK, there was that 7-iron to a few inches on the par-3 16th hole to beat Tom Lehman in a playoff when the Mercedes Championships was held here in 1997. And the two victories in the Match Play Championship, over David Toms and Davis Love III, were sweet.
 
'I've played well here,' Woods said. 'But this golf course didn't really handle the weather too well, and this time of year, you get rain. We've been lucky to finish this tournament on time.'
 
At least Woods has a few fond memories.
 
That hasn't been the case for Els, who dislikes La Costa so much that he didn't show up the past two years.
 
When last seen here, the Big Easy had a 1-up lead on the final hole before Phil Tataurangi knocked in a 25-foot birdie putt, then hit his tee shot on the second extra hole to 2 feet for a victory. Els was eliminated in 2002 in the second round by missing a 4-foot par putt that would have extended his match against Bob Estes.
 
Els could only grin when he arrived Monday night at La Costa.
 
'You check into the hotel and see you're booked for seven nights,' he said. 'But you know you might be leaving in a day or two. It's exciting for the fans. But you're on edge. And you're on edge the whole round.'
 
Els opens with former Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer, and it's safe to say he has no expectations. Els has never advanced beyond the second round at La Costa, and he figures he has seen the worst.
 
'If you look past the first round, you're in trouble,' he said. 'Don't even look at your bracket, because crazy things happen in match play. You've got to prepare yourself for a tight match no matter what happens.'
 
Crazy would be the time Jeff Maggert trailed for 33 holes in the championship match until chipping in for birdie to win in 38 holes. Crazy would be the time Kevin Sutherland was 2 down with two holes to play in the opening round against David Duval, won in 20 holes, then went on to win the tournament.
 
Ian Poulter knows what crazy looks like.
 
He was playing great golf in the semifinals last year and was all square with Toms when they got to the ninth hole. Toms hit a 5-wood to 4 feet for birdie, holed out a 9-iron from 123 yards for eagle on No. 10, then hit a 5-wood that stopped 2 feet away on the par-5 11th.
 
'When you do that, you're going to win the golf tournament, and that's exactly what he did,' Poulter said.
 
He was asked what he said to Toms.
 
'Nice shot,' Poulter replied dryly. 'I'm not happy, am I? I'm not going to stand and have a five-minute chew with him. I'm going to pack my bags and go home.'
 
He unpacked at La Costa, looked at the draw and saw that he gets to play Toms again -- this time in the first round. The other choice, before Bjorn withdrew, was 2005 runner-up Chris DiMarco.
 
'You've got to beat the best to win this golf tournament,' Poulter said. 'So what difference does it make if it's the first round, second, third, fourth or semis or finals?'
 
For some of the newcomers, such as Sean O'Hair and Bart Bryant, it has been years since they played match play. Bryant remembers playing match play on one of the small tours where he once toiled in Florida, and isn't sure it matters. He'll try to hit fairways and greens, make a few putts and see whether that takes him to the airport on Wednesday or the winner's circle on Sunday.
 
First up for Bryant is John Daly.
 
'JD has the ability to dwarf any golf course,' Bryant said. 'He can be real streaky. You really never know what you're going to get. I've got to play my game, and let him decide who wins the match.'
 
It is hard to consider anyone a favorite considering the fickle nature of 18-hole matches, where someone can be off his game and run into someone who is flat-out terrible that day. Even so, Woods and Toms have records that are difficult to ignore. Woods is 21-4 at La Costa, and 33-9-2 as a pro. Toms, who lost in the finals to Woods in 2003, is 18-5 in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
But there is only one certainty this week.
 
'Any time you get beat in the first round,' Woods said, 'it's not a positive feeling.'
 
Related Links:
  • Round One Match Ups
  • Full Coverage - WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
  • Match Play Brackets