Friday, February 24, 2012


By Oliver Brown in Marana, Arizona
Tiger Woods tumbled out of the Accenture World Match-play championship yesterday with one of his most inept putting performances of recent times.
“The greens were tricky,” he said, by way of excuse, but this was scant justification for missing a five-footer on the 18th to lose to Nick Watney by one hole. The lapse offered further evidence that Tiger's touch with the putter, not to mention his nerve at such critical junctures, had disintegrated.
From the centre of the final fairway, Woods struck a glorious approach, only to watch the ensuing putt drift high of the hole; a sight that ate away like acid at his already fragile confidence. In his halcyon years, when he was seizing this title on three occasions, the 14-time major champion would never have wavered.
His miss added to an uncomfortable sense that Woods was no longer the alpha male, the remorseless predator, but simply just another golfer.
Woods had a surfeit of chances to assert his authority over fellow American Watney, who was so edgy himself that he flailed one shot into a hospitality tent. But his reading of the Dove Mountain greens was lamentable.
His driving was also errant, and there was a worrying moment as he escaped from a fairway bunker at the 10th, where he flung away his club in apparent pain.
Woods missed out on a potentially fascinating duel on Friday night against Lee Westwood.
For the first time at the Accenture, Westwood can savour that Friday feeling. In 11 years of trying, the world No 2 had never reached the third round in this ultimate test of head-to-head nerve, until his 3 and 2 dispatch of Sweden’s Robert Karlsson sealed his place in the last 16.
“I feel like the first man on the moon,” Westwood said.
“It’s one giant step, through to Match Play on Friday. I need more clothes — I didn’t pack for a long enough stay!”
All told, it was a productive day for the British. Rory McIlroy delivered a consummate exhibition in his short game to beat Anders Hansen 3 and 2, fashioning three fabulous chips from the 14th that left the Dane with no resistance.
He will play Miguel Ángel Jiménez today, after the Spaniard enjoyed a surprising 2 and 1 triumph over USPGA champion Keegan Bradley.
Paul Lawrie and Martin Laird also ensured that the Saltire kept fluttering in Arizona. The Scots staged a fine show of defiance, reaching the third round at the expense of young gunslingers Ryo Ishikawa and Matteo Manassero, as these two seasoned hands silenced golf’s new wave.
Lawrie was especially impressive against Ishikawa. The 1999 Open winner is playing the best golf of his career at the age of 43, and prevailed by one hole.
Laird was less convincing, displaying scant assurance with his putting. But still he held off the talents of Manassero for a 2 and 1 victory.
In recent memory, the Scots have seldom had it so good. In 1999, Lawrie was lifting the Claret Jug and Colin Montgomerie remained at No 2 in the world rankings, but the ensuing decade brought steady decline.
Laird could be the man to arrest the trend, despite his mid-Atlantic accent.
He never allowed Manassero to threaten seriously here, and when he sank a four-footer on the short 16th, a half at the next was sufficient to secure his place in the last 16.
By poetic coincidence, in the round of the last 16 the former Scottish youths amateur champion plays against Lawrie, whom he recalls giving him a pep talk back in ’99.



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