MARANA, Ariz. – If the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is a collection of micro-Sundays, win-or-go-home episodes that leave no room for the slow and steady, then Tiger Woods must have considered this week’s start the ultimate opportunity.
It is this condensed version of life on Tour, mini-Sundays playing out across the rugged landscape, that Woods embraced in his steady march back to the winner’s circle, so much so one half expected him to show up each day wearing the traditional red shirt and black pants reserved for final rounds.
If “reps” is what he needs, particularly those of the pressure-packed variety that are found only on PGA Tour Sundays, Dove Mountain was a treasure trove of opportunity.
Unfortunately for Woods, to say nothing of Accenture officials, his Thursday outing looked more like his Sunday norm of late.
For all the progress Woods has made with his swing there is still a missing element that seems to manifest itself most dramatically on Sunday. To start his season it was a closing 72 in Abu Dhabi and a tie for third place; two weeks ago it was a finishing 75 at Pebble Beach and a tie for 15th, and on Thursday in the high Arizona desert it was an even-par card and a second-round ouster.
This was the third time in his last three WGC starts Woods hasn’t made it to Friday and it had all the markings of his previous Sunday swoons.
As his 5 ½-footer on the 18th slipped past the hole – the kind of clutch putt that was once so automatic that opponent Nick Watney was already eyeing his yardage book and plotting his way around the first playoff hole – the unique opportunity that the Match Play offered had become another disappointment.
“I was fighting the blocks all day with my putter,” Woods said. “The putter was going back a little bit shut, and subsequently I let it go and it goes left and I block it right.”
From the first hole Woods’ day was defined by the miss – 10 feet for birdie at Nos. 1 and 4, a vicious lip-out for par at the seventh, a 9-footer for birdie at the 13th hole, where he played bunker to desert and hit his second left-handed shot of the week from under a Jumping Cholla, which is two more than Phil Mickelson hit this week.
“I hit the ball well all day today,” Woods said. “Unfortunately I just did not make enough putts to extend the match or even win the match.”
Woods cut the lead to one hole after Watney airmailed the hospitality tents at the 16th hole, but the moxie that once lifted him to 14 major championships and 71 PGA Tour titles was, as it has been for two calendars, missing.
“We don’t see him missing putts like that very often,” Watney said of Woods’ effort at the 18th hole. “And he missed a couple of those.”
For the second consecutive tournament Woods was clipped by one of Butch Harmon’s crew following Mickelson’s victory paired with Woods at Pebble Beach. Seems “Butchie” has given away too many secrets.
“(Harmon) told me the crowd would definitely be pro-Tiger and it’s interesting to play an away match,” laughed Watney, who will play Lee Westwood on Friday in the Sweet 16. “He told me (Woods) isn’t going to game you, he just wants to beat you. No gamesmanship.”
No, there was no gamesmanship, nor was there that old Sunday game. You know, the one that produced walk-off winners in consecutive years in the fading light at Bay Hill and a U.S. Open title on one leg.
Sure he missed his share of putts over the last decade, it just seemed as though he made every one he needed.
There was no magic on Thursday at Dove Mountain, or Wednesday for that matter. Against Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in Round 1 Woods was 1 over par and was lucky to advance to Round 2.
Woods figures he needs “about a day” to sort out his putting issues, which is fortunate because he’s back on the clock next week at the Honda Classic. However, solving his Sunday issues, be they real or the slightly faux type like at this week’s Match Play, may take a little more time.
Watch live coverage of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Golf Channel, Friday 2-6PM ET; Saturday noon-2PM ET; Sunday 8AM-1PM ET. NBC coverage can be seen live Saturday/Sunday, 2-6PM ET.