Feb
22
2012
Match Play Round 1: Tiger Survives, Luke Gets the Boot and Upsets Galore
By Stephanie Wei under WGC

First I was afraid, I was petrified...

Match Play Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the golfing season. The only downside is there’s so much happening it’s hard to keep track of it all! Kudos to Conor for breaking down all thirty-freaking-two of the matches (sorry, dude!) — his picks fared alright, but as we all know, sometimes you have better luck using a coin to fill out your bracket.

Raise your hand if you had Luke Donald in your Round of 4? Yeah, well, if you picked Ernie Els to pull out a can of whoop ass, then you deserve major props. I think it’s safe to assume a lot of brackets busted when Els trumped Luke 5&4. Luckily, we’re still in the game because of the points system that Golfweek uses. Phew.

Donald still made history, becoming only the third No. 1 seed in history to lost in the opening round at Match Play.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, who is battling a severe cold, managed to hold off Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano 1-up. Neither player would have come close to breaking the course record — or even par, for that matter. Woods is going to bring at least some game in the second round, where he’ll face Nick Watney, who thrashed Darren Clarke 5&4 (I’m surprised it didn’t end sooner!).

“I don’t think neither one of us had our best stuff today, subsequently the match is back and forth,” said Woods in his post-round presser. “It was the epitome of match play.

“I was 2-down through 2 and had a putt there at 3 to not go 3‑down through 3.  And I had a putt at 9 to go 2‑up at the turn.  And then all of a sudden, I made a huge par‑putt at 12 to not go 2-down.It was just 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.”

Tomorrow’s game plan?

“I’ve got to hit the ball a little better than I did,” he said. “And I’ll certainly do that.  I’ve got to get a better feel for my distances out here.  Just the numbers that we can hit the golf ball out here is just amazing, with the altitude and with the wind and being warm.  There’s a lot of numbers going on, taking off percentages and then, you know, for how long is this ball going to stay in the air versus a short iron and blah, blah, blah.  So it’s tough.”

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Other noteworthy matches…

*There were 15 upsets

*Dustin Johnson chipped-in twice (yes, seriously) to come from behind and outlast Jim Furyk.

*Torrey Pines Redux on Thursday: Kyle Stanley vs. Brandt Snedeker.

*Bill Haas was 3-up through 13 against Ryo Ishikawa. Game, set, match, right? Not quite. Ishikawa rallied and birdied three of the last five holes to beat Haas, who is just coming off an impressive victory on Sunday at the Northern Trust Open. Well played, Ryo. Well played.

“Give him credit,” Haas said. “He could have easily said, ‘I don’t have it.’ But he made three birdies on the last five holes…I sort of gave it to him on the last hole. But he hit a nice shot in there and give him credit; he’s obviously a stud, a young player who has got a lot of game. He does a lot of good things.”

*On the other hand, Jason Day doesn’t deserve the same kind of credit. Don’t get me wrong, he obviously gets props for hanging tough and rallying from 3-down with three to play, but his opponent, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, basically handed it to Day on a silver platter when he bogeyed the last three holes. Day forced an extra hole and made a birdie on the 19th to win the match.

*In the GQ match of Robert Rock and Adam Scott, Rock played the least worse and won 1-up. I loved his honesty in his post-victory TV interview. He basically said — not in so many words — we both played poorly and I got a little lucky.

“Quite a relief to get through, really,” said Rock in his post-round presser.  “We probably didn’t play the best.  There were probably better matches out there on the course.”

*Rickie Fowler tried to bounce back after finding himself 4-down through 12 to David Toms, who spent last week on a family skiing vacation, but it wasn’t enough. Kudos to Fowler for the valiant effort, though — usually when you birdie five of the last six holes, you think that will be enough. Toms and Fowler matched birdies on 18 and the vet outlasted the kid 1-up.

*Keegan Bradley deserves a round of applause for beating the odds and disappointing Geoff Ogilvy 4&3. What a statement. Good on him for not letting all the criticism get to him — it was really the first time he’s had to deal with so much negativity. More important, he earns Tweet of the Day honors:

*This is the total kiss of death, but c’mon, you didn’t pick Matteo Manassero to beat Webb Simpson? The young Italian made it to the Round of 8 last year — as a 17-year-old, no less. Now, the 18-year-old is a short-game whiz and you don’t bet against outstanding putters. I have him in my final four. Oh great, now he’s been hit with the Wei jinx. Sorry, Manny…but I hope you thump Martin Laird tomorrow.

“Well, today’s match was kind of strange that way because I started with the idea of not really much to lose and then I got a big lead, 3-up after four holes,” said Manny.  “And then you start thinking, well, now you’re the guy that has the most to lose.  And then Webb started playing well.  So I had to kind of keep the two attitudes, you know, the one that has to win and the one that doesn’t have anything to lose.”

*Rory McIlroy showed up to the desert packing some new guns — I’m talking about his arms, of course. Looks like the young Northern Irishman has bulked up quite a bit in the off-season. I mean, he’s definitely been lifting. He’d started to pack on more pounds in muscle last season, but it’s glaringly obvious now. He didn’t play his best in the opening match against George Coetzee, but he held him off 2-up. McIlroy will face Anders Hansen in the next round.

*Here’s a link to the “leaderboard” or results so far.

*More important, if you want to know how you’re faring in WUP’s bracket challenge, go here.

*Lastly, here are Round 2 pairings.

 (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)