Tiger’s victory is a gift from Gonzo
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano raised eyebrows on Monday when he called Tiger Woods beatable.
Woods responded on Tuesday that he felt the same way about the Spaniard.
On Wednesday, it was painfully obvious that they were both right.
The two played the dourest of matches featuring very, very few highlights in the opening round of the Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain.
Woods held his nerve with an exceptional up-and-down to save par on the 18th hole to win the match, 1-up, but only because the man they call Gonzo putted more like his namesake from the Muppets than a five-time winner on the European Tour on the inward nine.
"I think if there was one day to beat Tiger Woods, this was it," the 31-year-old Spaniard ruefully said. "I didn’t take the opportunity.
"He played far away from his best."
Far, far away.
Woods, who was nursing a bad cold, wasn’t pretending anything different.
"I don’t think either one of us had our best stuff today," he said.
"It was a match that was just back and forth and we both made our share of mistakes, there’s no doubt about that. But somehow I was able to move on."
Woods’ description of how he lost to a bogey on the 10th hole conveyed the full flavor of how they played.
"We were both slapping it around over there on the left on 10, he’s taking an unplayable, I’m in bushes, cactus, cacti or whatever you want to call them, everywhere, and then I have a putt to halve the hole after I buried it in the wash there."
Woods hadn’t won a match at this event since 2009, and hasn’t progressed beyond the second round since trouncing Stewart Cink in the 2008 final.
That streak didn’t look like it would end after Fernandez-Castano made birdie at the first two holes.
The first appeared to stun Woods, who missed his birdie try from ten feet after watching his adversary roll in a 20 footer. He found so much trouble with an errant drive on No. 2 that he needed to hit left-handed to get out, flipping the clubface to knock the ball out of some brush.
Woods should have gone three down after finding the bunker on the par-three third – a guarded swing born from a fear of the water on the right – but made a breaking five footer for par to halve the hole.
But birdies on seven – a prayer launched from 50 feet – and eight got Woods to 1-up.
He looked like extending his lead on the ninth but the Spaniard made a ten footer for bogey and Woods three-putted to tie.
Then began Woods’ misadventures, making double bogey after finding the desert on the 10th, then misjudging his second shot into the par-five 11th, leading to a sloppy bogey, gifting his opponent a 1-up lead.
Woods had to make a tricky putt to save par and square the 12th before dodging a bullet when Fernandez-Castano missed a short birdie putt on the next hole.
The match probably turned, though, on the 14th. Woods inexplicably sailed the green, but miraculously got up-and-down while his opponent failed to get a 15-foot birdie putt to the hole.
By that point, Fernandez-Castano’s body language wasn’t exactly screaming: winner. Shoulders slumped, he watched as Woods birdied the next after driving the green.
From there, the Spaniard was playing catch up, and he couldn’t.
"I was fortunate to move on," Woods conceded.
He will have to work on his putting – the same club that betrayed him at Pebble Beach two Sundays ago – if he’s to extend his stay in Tucson.
"I hit a couple of bad putts, I’m not going to deny that," said Woods afterward, when asked about his 30 putts.
"But I had a hard time reading these greens."
The other issue, he said, was that he was thrown by some of the distances he hit his clubs in the thin desert air.
"I’ve got to get a better feel for my distances out here," he said.
"Just the numbers we can hit the golf ball out here is just amazing, with the altitude and with the wind and being warm.
"I mean, it’s hard to convince myself when I have 272 (yards) to the hole that it’s a smooth three iron."
He’ll have to figure it all out as he now faces Nick Watney, who hammered British Open champion Darren Clarke 5 & 4 in the first round.
Watney’s not likely to be as generous as Gonzo.