'I thought I struck it well, I thought I putted well,' said Els. 'I didn't get the ball close enough to the holes today. I felt I was playing pretty decent golf.'
Els was not the only No. 1 seed that was eliminated on Wednesday. Retief Goosen, the top-ranked player in the Ben Hogan bracket, fell to the oldest player in the field of 64, Jay Haas, 4 and 3.
Goosen, who rose to a No. 1 seed after Vijay Singh withdrew, fell apart on his second nine and after air-mailing the green and flubbing a chip at 15, the 2001 U.S. Open champion conceded the match to Haas.
Tiger Woods, the top-ranked player in the world and No. 1 seed in the Bobby Jones bracket, earned a 2-and-1 victory over Carl Pettersson. Woods already has surpassed his performance from a year ago when he was bounced in the opening round by Peter O'Malley.
'Obviously my expectations are pretty high,' said Woods, who needs this tournament to complete a career sweep of the World Golf Championships events. 'As far as last year is concerned, I put that away. You've got to focus on the shots and sometimes they're pretty tough out here.'
Phil Mickelson survived his opening-round contest with Robert Karlsson. Mickelson, the top seed in the Sam Snead bracket, took a 1-up lead when Karlsson bogeyed No. 17 and held on for the 1-up victory.
After nearly four inches of rain pounded La Costa over the last two days, Wednesday's action was played with lift, clean and place rules. That did not stop the upsets that seem to prevail in this match-play tournament.
Els did not take the lead in his match until the 17th hole. He needed to hang on at the par-5 closing hole to win the match but Els found trouble in the rough with his third shot.
The South African duffed his third into a greenside bunker but played a beautiful blast just short of the hole, forcing Tataurangi to concede par. Tataurangi, who entered the field after Nick Faldo withdrew with the flu, holed a 30-foot birdie putt at 18 to force the extra session.
On the first playoff hole, Tataurangi found a bunker but blasted out to five feet and made the gutsy par save. At the par-3 second, Tataurangi stuck his tee shot two feet from the hole while Els found a sand trap. After Els missed his bunker shot, he conceded the match to Tataurangi.
'So be it,' said Els. 'I'm disappointed, but this is what happens with 18 holes of match play. I knew he was going to make that putt (on 18).'
Pettersson, who finished second to Woods at the Buick Invitational two weeks ago, showed some nerves with a horrible tee shot at the first but those nerves seemed to leave on the walk to the green. Pettersson ran home a 30-foot birdie at the hole to go 1-up.
Woods built a 2-up lead at the par-3 16th tee and hit a beautiful 8-iron 15 feet right of the flag. He looked to be in great shape to make birdie and end the match but Pettersson, who missed the green short, chipped in and put pressure on Woods to halve the hole. Woods drained the putt then lagged his first putt to tap-in range at the 17th, forcing Pettersson to concede.
'I needed to make that putt,' said Woods, referring to his stroke at 16. 'It looked like I had that putt to win that match then it looked like I might lose the hole. I figured if I made that putt, I'd win the match.'
Defending champion Kevin Sutherland was 3 down to No. 2 Sergio Garcia in the Ben Hogan bracket as the two played 13. Sutherland won the next five holes to bounce the young Spaniard from the tournament and keep open his chances for a repeat.
'I played really poor on the front,' said Sutherland, who defeated David Duval in similar fashion last year, coming back from 2 down. 'I was hitting it all over the place. But match play is a funny thing. You get some momentum, and I definitely got it, and I was riding it pretty well. Sergio seemed like he was struggling a little bit and I was able to come back and win.'
Sutherland went on to a 2-and-1 victory and will face Justin Rose in the second round. Rose squandered a 2-up lead to Duval but prevailed on the 20th hole.
Duval was 2 down with three to play but birdied the 16th and 17th to draw even. He looked to be in command on the first extra hole, No. 1, but left a birdie putt six feet short.
Rose sank an eight-foot birdie putt at the second extra hole to win the match and bounce Duval out in 20 holes for the second straight year.
'It doesn't matter how it happened. I lost,' said Duval, who is mired in a slump since the beginning of 2002.
Mike Weir, a two-time winner on tour this season, and Loren Roberts engaged in the longest match in the tournament's history since it came under the World Golf Championships umbrella. Weir finally won 1-up on the 26th hole to set up a second-round contest with Jerry Kelly.
Colin Montgomerie's woes at this event continued on Wednesday. He was trounced by Alex Cejka 4 and 2 and for the second year in a row, the Scotsman made an early exit after a first-round loss to Scott McCarron in 2002.
Monty was not the only 3 seed to be beaten in the first round. Chris DiMarco lost 2 and 1 to Toshi Izawa in the Bobby Jones bracket.