AUSTIN, Texas – Six years later, the Dell Technologies Match Play was all too familiar for Tiger Woods.
He was on the cusp of losing his fourth straight hole Wednesday when Woods poured in a 10-foot par putt, and Aaron Wise three-putted from 30 feet. Just like that, momentum swung in his favor. Woods won three of the next six holes and won his opening match.
The round-robin format is new to Woods, who last played this event in 2013.
He had never been to Austin Country Club.
What doesn’t change is the fickle nature of match play.
“I was up, the next thing I’m down in the match,” Woods said. “Looked like I was about ready to go 2 down through 11. All of a sudden, I’m all square. I’m up and throw away a hole with a three-putt. It’s one of those weird matches.”
And it was like that all over the place in the opening session of group play.
Jim Furyk, who only two weeks ago never imagined he would be in the 64-man field, was 3 down to Jason Day when he won three straight holes around the turn, and ultimately the last two holes to win.
Ian Poulter was on his way to atoning for his 8-and-6 quarterfinal loss last year to Kevin Kisner until he watched Kisner jar a wedge from 58 yards for eagle, forcing Poulter to birdie the last two holes to win.
“I wasn’t going to roll over like last year,” he said.
Jordan Spieth birdied his last two holes for a halve against Billy Horschel, which felt bigger than that the way his year has gone.
“Feels like a win to me,” Spieth said. “If I were on his side of things, that’s kind of a tough go.”
Woods is a three-time winner of the World Golf Championship and has experienced enough to realize that scores don’t matter as long he wins.
“The way we were playing today, we’re very thankful it’s not stroke play,” Woods said with a laugh.
Wise gave away the opening two holes with a double bogey and a bogey. Woods went from 2 up to 1 down around the turn, and then he regained control when Wise missed too many short par putts. Woods closed him out, 3 and 1, when Wise three-putted the par-3 17th.
Some players had far easier. Jon Rahm had the shortest match, beating Siwoo Kim, 7 and 5. Rory McIlroy needed only 14 holes to beat Luke List, while top seed Dustin Johnson closed out Chez Reavie on the 15th hole.
Defending champion Bubba Watson lost his opening match for the first time since he began playing this event in 2011. Watson needed to win the 18th against Kevin Na, but his second shot out of the bunker in front of the green came back down the slope and into his footprint. His next shot, far more difficult, started to come down the hill when he jogged over and picked it up to concede the match.
In the group of major champions, Henrik Stenson got the same result against Phil Mickelson as he did at Royal Troon when he won the 2016 British Open. He won on the 17th hole when Mickelson’s tee shot went over the green, off the rocks and into a hazard.
Justin Harding of South Africa, just inside the top 50 and in danger of being passed, was 2 down with three to play against Matt Fitzpatrick when he won the last three holes – two of them with pars – to win the match.
The highest seed to lose was Justin Thomas at No. 5. He fell behind to Lucas Bjerregaard of Denmark, who never gave him much of a chance to get back in the match. It ended on the 16th, when Thomas hit what he thought was a perfect wedge only to see it carom off the flag stick and into the rough.
Spieth, the No. 4 seed in this event last year, is now at No. 28. He has not finished better than a tie for 35th in his six tournaments this year, an alarming development as the Masters nears. He only wants to see progress.
And then he was 3 down after just six holes to Horschel.
Spieth managed to square the match with five holes to play when it seemingly fell apart with a tee shot along the banks of the Colorado River that he chopped out into a foot print in the bunker left by a bird. He lost that hole. And then he turned a chance to tie the match into another loss when he three-putted from 20 feet on the 15th.
Horschel helped the cause by missing a 3-foot par putt on the 16th that would have kept him 2 up with two to play. Spieth took it from there. He made a 6-foot birdie to match Horschel and send it to the 18th, and he lofted a wedge to 2 feet for birdie to win the 18th.
“To birdie the last two holes is really big for me right now as I’m looking to gain confidence under pressure and kind of test some of the stuff I’ve been working on,” Spieth said. “It feels like you’re battling to try to win a golf tournament on a Saturday or Sunday toward the end of these matches. So it was really cool to hit some clutch shots and pull off a tie there 2 down and three to go.”
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