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Woods, McIlroy gone after one match
Different desert, same result.
Just as they were in Abu Dhabi, where both shockingly missed the cut, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were sent packing in the darkness of Thursday's delayed first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
The world’s top two players looked anything but as the high Sonoran desert thawed out from Wednesday’s freak snowstorm.
A very rusty McIlroy was ousted by his close friend, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, while Woods also fell to a friend, Charles Howell III, who revealed afterward that he’s never before beaten Woods, not even in a casual round at home in Florida.
Howell, who won 2 and 1, estimated that Woods had beaten him 75 times.
Oh-for-75 is the sort of streak that leaves scars.
Even though Woods never led in the match, Howell kept waiting for what he called “that Tiger moment.”
“Getting beat by him so many times, yeah, you’re just waiting for it,” he said.
“It’s kind of like a whipped dog; you know it’s coming.
“I mean, in my mind now I can think of 20- to 25-foot putts he’s made on the last hole at Isleworth to clip us.
“You see those towering iron shots that never leave the flag and you’re waiting for the putter to go up in the air with his left hand.”
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But instead of the putter being held aloft, Howell got the crestfallen Tiger, whose chin fell into his chest when putts didn’t fall. And many didn’t. Woods has always struggled to read the greens at Dove Mountain — he’s not alone on that score — and his confidence wouldn’t have been boosted when his birdie attempt from 6 feet on the first hole didn’t touch the cup.
Although he didn’t make a bogey, Woods — who was 2-under-par through 17 holes — made mistakes that kept him from making birdies.
But even so, when he stuck a beautifully flighted iron into the par-3 16th, it looked as if he’d square the match and the story would end as it always has for Howell.
On that green, however, it was as though they’d switched bodies.
It was Howell — a man whose putter too often has let him down — who provided the Tiger moment, draining a 25-footer for birdie, then watching as Woods missed from 10 feet on a similar line.
“It actually caught me off guard that he missed the putt on 16,” Howell said.
“I really thought that he would make that one. That’s in his wheelhouse. That’s the stage he excels at really well.”
Certainly, he used to excel on that stage.
But this is a different Tiger.
That he chose to play the final two holes in semi-darkness instead of making Howell sleep on that oh-for-75 streak said much.
Woods insisted he wanted to keep playing because he felt he was “playing well” and could make two birdies to force the match to extra holes.
But if he did, he’d have had to return in the morning anyway because of the fading light, so why not let “Chuckie” — as he calls Howell — chew over the magnitude of the moment?
After Woods’ long birdie try on 17 went well left, he had the look of a man who wanted to get back to Florida.
Much will be made of the misstep, but I got the impression it wasn’t a loss that would exactly haunt him.
After all, he’s already won once this year, doesn’t like this golf course — he’s been ousted twice in the first round and twice in the second since the Match Play moved here — and it’s not like he owes anything to Accenture, which dumped him after the scandal.
McIlroy’s loss was far more significant.
The world No. 1 certainly had more on the line.
He’s been second-guessed for taking the mega deal from Nike, which some, including Nick Faldo, have warned may cost McIlroy his “feel.”
The young Ulsterman insists there’s nothing wrong with the new equipment, but his play tells another story.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Lowry, who won 1 up. “We didn’t play our best golf.”
McIlroy agreed, saying that if he hadn’t been playing his old mate — who twice chipped in for birdie — “I probably would have lost by more.”
“It wasn’t a great quality match,” he said.
McIlroy, who lost in the final here last year to Hunter Mahan, now goes to next week’s Honda Classic, where he’s defending champion, with building pressure on his shoulders.
He’s played three rounds of golf since November, and hasn’t looked good in any of them.
“Yeah, I do,” he said when asked if he felt rusty.
“It’ll be nice to go play a tournament next week and then Doral (the following week).”
Whether it actually will be nice remains to be seen.
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