Jumping Cholla

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2007- WGC-AccentureMARANA, Ariz. ' Its called Jumping Cholla, vicious, spiny stuff that flourishes in this corner of the Arizona desert and attacks anything unfortunate enough to move within its circle of influence.
 
Once dug in, the stuff is almost impossible to shake loose, leaving a painful scar in its wake.
 
Sometime around the turn of his second-round match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Tiger Woods must have been thinking that the Jumping Cholla should have been named after Tim Clark, the scrappy South African who took down the games Goliath with a broom-handled slingshot and a mid-round birdie-birdie-birdie burst that stunned the Tucson masses more than it staggered Woods.
 
The world will want to know whats wrong with Tiger Woods on Friday morning, and the answer is match play. Its a bitter pill for Woods, a mean mistress he cant shake. He loves the format ' nurtures his hyper-competitive personality. But like pineapples on pizza, Woods and match play don't always go together.
 
The world will wonder if it was the knee or the rust or a rebuilt swing, but the truth is there is nothing wrong with Woods that 72 holes of stroke play cant fix.
 
Woods could be at his best mid-summer form and hed still be even money to cash at the games most intense one-and-done track meet.
 
Its not that he cant win the Match Play ' fact is hes done it three times, which given the statistical vagaries of the format is almost as impressive as those 14 Grand Slam mantel pieces ' its just that when it comes to the games oldest form of play the devil is in the details for Woods. It wasnt the knee, it was a needing format that favors the hottest hand.
 
You have to be on your game right away, Woods said earlier this week. It's not like you can build into it. You can go out there and shoot 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-under par and still go home, so you have to make sure that you bring the intensity and bring your game from the very first hole, because if you don't, then I'll be going home. That's the fickleness of match play.
 
Take nothing away from Clark, the Tours best player without a title. Hes bogey-free for the week and threw six birdies in 16 holes at the world No. 1. It wasnt an out-of-body experience, it was an inner peace, that lifted No. 33 in the world past the games alpha male.
 
I was obviously under pressure. Don't get me wrong, I was working really hard to keep myself calm and try and play my own game, said Clark, who entered the Match Play having not finished worse than 22nd in his first four events this year. I put a lot of iron shots pretty close, and I think perhaps he wasn't expecting that or not. But I don't think I'm ever going to intimidate Tiger, let's put it that way.
 
Blinders, almost as much as that smooth long putter and a steady driver that has found 16 of 24 fairways this week, was Clarks secret weapon. It wasnt easy. Never is. But thats the beauty of match play, give me 18 holes and the best Ive got and Ill take my chances.
 
Yet even when it appeared that Woods had let the 5-foot-7 dynamo hang around too long, he conjured up some magic on the 14th. Down three holes, Woods went from the sand to the sand, and not in that good desert way, and appeared bound for an even earlier exit. But the man has a flair for the dramatic (see 2008 U.S. Open) and he blasted his bunker shot from 18 yards away into the hole for an unlikely birdie.
 
But Clark is not J.B. Holmes, the bomber who had Woods in a similar three-down-with-five-to-play hole during Round 1 last year but couldnt finish the sentence, and the drivable par-4 15th, although fine theater, is no place for the weeks first wayward tee ball. Woods swung for the fences, and came up with a long out.
 
Itll be a long flight back to Orlando, Fla. As Woods is fond of saying, Second sucks. We can only imagine his unprintable reaction to a T-17.
 
There are on excuses on Planet Tiger, and he wasnt particularly sharp with his irons or have a handle on Dove Mountains sluggish greens, but he was pretty good considering hes played one event in 10 months and was getting around on the best left knee modern medicine can piece together.
 
Truth is, match play is such a moving target that Woods may want to give himself an internal get-out-of-jail-free card. Or maybe its best if he stews on his early Match Play exit for bit. Theres nothing better than an angry Tiger and last checked, Jumping Chollas dont grow at Doral.
 

Related Links:
  • Match Play Scoring
  • Full Coverage ' Tiger's Return
  • Full Coverage ' WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship