7 the magic number for U.S., Europe
The roar resonated across Dove Mountain from fans packed around the 18th green as Tiger Woods, needing a birdie on the last hole to stay in his match, hit a shot that dropped out of the Arizona sky and landed 5 feet from the hole.
That was followed by silence.
Woods missed the putt so badly that it never even touched the hole.
No one was more surprised than Nick Watney, who removed his cap to shake hands with Woods after a 1-up victory Thursday in the Match Play Championship. It was the third straight time in this fickle event that Woods failed to get out of the second round, and it raised more questions about his ability to make key putts that once seemed so automatic.
”I was fighting the blocks all day with my putter,” said Woods, who missed three putts inside 10 feet on the last six holes. ”Left-to-right putt, I took it slightly shut right there, and I knew it — and blocked it open.”
Watney was so sure that Woods would square the match that he already had his yardage book out, checking the hole location on the first green (the 19th hole of their match), trying to decide if 3-wood was the right club off the tee.
”The old adage is to expect your opponent to make it,” Watney said. ”And when it’s Tiger Woods, you really expect him to make it.”
Just not this Tiger Woods.
”I didn’t miss a single shot coming in, which is good. And that was fun, to hit the ball that well,” Woods said. ”Unfortunately, I just didn’t make a putt when I needed it.”
Two weeks ago, Woods couldn’t buy a putt at Pebble Beach and closed with a 75, which was 11 shots worse than playing partner and eventual winner Phil Mickelson. He also struggled to make putts in Abu Dhabi, when he failed to win despite being tied for the 54-hole lead with Robert Rock.
And now the Match Play Championship, where he lost his only lead by missing a 5-foot par putt on the seventh hole, and made only one putt longer than 5 feet all day.
”I’m very happy to move on. I feel a bit fortunate, as well,” Watney said. ”We don’t see him miss putts like that very often. And there were a few of them.”
Watney next plays Lee Westwood, the former world No. 1 whom Watney has beaten at Dove Mountain each of the last two years. Westwood had no trouble against Robert Karlsson of Sweden, advancing to the third round for the first time in 12 tries at this fickle event.
”Need more clothes. Didn’t pack for long enough!” Westwood jokingly tweeted.
England has won this World Golf Championship the past two years — Luke Donald and Ian Poulter — and Westwood is its last hope to make it three in a row.
The surprise was that Scotland had two players remaining — former British Open champion Paul Lawrie took down Ryo Ishikawa, and Martin Laird defeated Matteo Manassero. Lawrie and Laird face each other in the third round.
In other matches Thursday:
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, the No. 2 seed, made only three birdies but won two straight holes with par to put away Anders Hansen and advance to the third round. He plays Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 48-year-old Spaniard who beat PGA champion Keegan Bradley.
Dustin Johnson, headed for defeat in the opening round until outlasting Jim Furyk in 20 holes, blasted Francesco Molinari early and rolled to a 7-and-5 win. ”I was definitely in a better mood,” Johnson said of the short day.
Johnson has played two medium-length players in Furyk and Molinari. Next up is another pea shooter, Mark Wilson, who breezed to a win over Robert Rock of England.
Steve Stricker celebrated his 45th birthday in style. Two down on the back nine, he rallied to catch Louis Oosthuizen, then won the match with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that had so much break even Stricker wasn’t sure he could make it.
He will play Hunter Mahan, who never trailed in beating Y.E. Yang.
Ernie Els, one day after becoming only the third No. 64 seed to win, had another short day that precedes a long flight home. He lost, 5 and 4, to Peter Hanson of Sweden.
Seven Americans, seven Europeans, an Asian and an Australian (John Senden) represent the 16 players left.
Watney fully expected to be among them.
He was among the few players who admitted peeking at the brackets, and he knew he had a chance to play Woods in the second round. Even as Woods was struggling to get through the opening round, Watney said he wanted to play him because of his stature as the dominant player of this era with 14 major championships.
”I really like Gonzo,” he said of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, whom Woods beat in 18 holes in the first round. ”But I wanted to play Tiger. This is why we play. I could beat him in the second round at Riviera, but then we have two more rounds. To go head-to-head and wind up on top, this is something I’ll remember.”
Woods took his only lead when Watney three-putted for bogey on the fourth hole, and Watney squared the match at No. 7 when Woods missed a 5-foot par putt, a sign of things to come.
The back nine again gave Woods fits. He hit into a bunker and into the desert, having to play a left-handed shot for the second straight day, conceding the 10th hole with a double bogey. Watney went 2 up with an 18-foot birdie on the 12th.
Then, it was a matter of hanging on.
”I just felt like Tiger Woods is not going to lay down,” Watney said. ”Tiger Woods is not going to give you this match, so you’ve got to do something to take it. And that was big. Obviously, that ended up being the cushion of the match.”