Match Play: Bjorn upsets Tiger on Day 1

2011-02-24T00:00:00Z 2011-02-24T15:39:35Z Match Play: Bjorn upsets Tiger on Day 1Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Moments after needing a extra hole to eliminate Tiger Woods from Wednesday's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Thomas Bjorn and his caddie checked their cell phones.

"It's blowing up," Dominic Bott cracked to his suddenly famous boss.

Bjorn figured it would.

Defeating the third-ranked Woods - winless streak, rebuilt swing, tattered confidence and all - is still big news in the golf world. And when the win happens on a world stage, with a large crowd rooting for Woods, it's life-changing.

Bjorn, a 40-year-old Dane, edged Woods in 19 holes, springing to life when the world's most famous golfer hit his final tee shot into the desert. Within seconds of Woods' concession, Bjorn's friends and family in Denmark checked in via text messages to offer their support.

"They must have been watching TV with phone in hand," he said.

Upsets dominated Wednesday's first round at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, with 13 of 32 matches won by the lower seed. Not that it was surprising - in Match Play, underdogs are more common than you'd expect.

Woods' 19-hole elimination marked the sixth time in as many years that at least one top-four seed has been knocked out of the tournament in the first round. Since the advent of Match Play in 1999, top-four seeds are just 86-48. The No. 1 overall seed has won the tournament three times; the Nos. 2 through 4 have been shut out entirely.

Though Woods, defending champion Ian Poulter and Arizona Wildcats legend Jim Furyk were all eliminated Wednesday, it was merely a scratch in a tournament when first rounds can typically be a bloodbath.

Top seeds Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Phil Mickelson all cruised Wednesday, and Match Play staples Geoff Ogilvy, Paul Casey and Stewart Cink all played to their reputations. Newcomers Matteo Manassero and Rickie Fowler advanced, as did Northern Ireland sensation Rory McIlroy.

In that way, Arizona's biggest golf tournament was spared. But Woods' elimination stings.

The event's biggest draw struggled with his rebuilt swing throughout his windblown first-round match. Woods' swagger returned exactly once, when he drilled an 8-foot putt to win No. 18 and force extra holes. Woods pumped his fist, then led a crowd of thousands to the first playoff hole - the par-4, 463-yard No. 1.

Then, his momentum veered hard-right.

Woods' tee shot landed in the desert scrub just right of the spacious fairway, lodged so deep that he had to hack out of it with his second swing.

Woods said he was simply "trying to hit a (first) shot in play."

"The fairway is, what, 200 yards wide, and I can't put the ball in the fairway?" he said. "That's very disappointing."

Woods hit a gem to within 20 feet of the cup on his third shot, setting up a must-make putt. When he missed, Woods conceded the hole.

As Bjorn and his caddie celebrated, Woods pulled his black Nike cap over his face and seethed.

"I had all the momentum going down 18," he said, "and I just gave it away."

For a moment, Woods - the PGA Tour's active wins leader and money-earner and a three-time Match Play champion - was sympathetic. He hasn't won a tournament since the 2009 BMW Championship. Personal issues kept Woods out of last year's Match Play. Controversy has shaded the way many in the gallery view him.

Bjorn, basking in the biggest win of his Match Play career, did his best to encourage Woods to persevere.

"I want to see him back at his best because I think it's much more fun to go up against him when he's absolutely at his peak," Bjorn said. "It was things down that line. But what was exactly said, that stays between me and Tiger."

 

Today

• What: Second round

• When: First tee time at 9:10 a.m.

• TV: Coverage at noon on Golf Channel

• Ticket info: 1-866-942-2672 or worldgolfchampionships.com

DON'T MISS: No. 4 Phil Mickelson vs. No. 29 Rickie Fowler, 10:46 a.m.

The most photogenic match of Round 2: Mickelson is a three-time champion of the old Tucson event, and the colorful Fowler, at 22, is a rising star from golf's latest generation of young guns.

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