With a back-nine blitz, Woods rallies to beat Holmes

Tiger Woods, WGC-Accenture Match Play
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Tiger Woods played the final five holes in 5-under par

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — In his 50th meaningful match as a pro, Tiger Woods found himself in strange territory.

He had never faced an opponent who consistently blasted it so far past him off the tee, but playing against J.B. Holmes in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods was first to hit from all but one fairway.

More troublesome was that Woods had never been down by more three holes in match play and come back to win.

"Not like this,'' he said Wednesday.

Woods was 4-down through seven holes last year to Nick O'Hern, but wound up missing a winning putt from 4 feet on the 19th hole and losing on the next one. His greatest rally was being 2-down with three holes against Ian Woosnam in the first round of the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in 1998, and beating him on the first extra hole.

"I just kept saying I could win in regulation,'' Woods said. "That's what I've always done. I've been in that situation a lot of times. It doesn't mean that you do, but you have to believe that you can.''

He made a believer out of Holmes.

Woods was 3 down with five holes to play when he holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the 14th. Then came Holmes' lone mistake down the stretch, a three-putt from behind the 15th that allowed Woods to lag his 18-footer for birdie, and he was walking to the hole when it dropped, charging up the gallery.

Then came a 20-foot birdie on the 16th to square the match, followed by a 35-foot eagle to complete his amazing rally.

And when Holmes missed an 8-foot birdie on the final hole, Woods had escaped with a 1-up victory.

"You're playing the best player in the world, 3 up with five to play,'' Holmes said. "I just said, 'Don't do anything stupid. Make him beat you.' And he did. What do you do?''

The only thing left was to remove his cap and shake hands with the world's No. 1 player, and on Wednesday, a survivor.

Woods exhaled, more relieved than thrilled to still be playing.

"I wish I was playing better,'' he said. "Obviously, I need to go do some work and get everything straightened out.''

None of the top seeds had an easy time at Dove Mountain.

Phil Mickelson, fresh off his victory at Riviera, birdied his first two holes against Pat Perez and appeared to have everything in hand until Perez holed birdie putts from 50 feet on the 14th and 40 feet on the 15th to square the match. Mickelson responded with a 35-foot birdie on the next hole, and won with a 4-foot par on the last.

Steve Stricker, the No. 3 seed, held his breath when Daniel Chopra's 30-foot birdie to win on the 18th tickled the edge of the cup, just like so many putts at the Mercedes-Benz Championship last month when Chopra beat him in a playoff.

This ending was different, for it was Stricker who holed from 8 feet for birdie on the 20th hole to advance.

The only top seed to had a short day was Ernie Els, which was not a good thing. Els only last week decided to come to Arizona for a tournament has haunted him, instead of a holiday on the beach in South Africa.

But he piled up five bogeys on the first nine holes to fall six behind, and when he made an eagle on the 10th to win his first and only hole, he looked at Jonathan Byrd and said, "Does this count for two (holes)?''

Byrd wound up winning, 6 and 5.

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