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Woods wins easy, and his road looks easier

MARANA, Ariz.(AP) One by one, the biggest names headed for the airport Thursday until Tiger Woods was the only player among the top eight seeds remaining at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Phil Mickelson had designs on a comeback until Justin Rose scrambled backward out of the desert and made a 30-foot par putt to halve the 15th hole, leaving Lefty looking like a batter frozen by a 3-2 curve that dropped over the plate.

Jim Furyk backed off a 7-foot birdie putt three times and still went wide left, losing on the 19th hole to Chad Campbell. Vijay Singh celebrated his 44th birthday with birdies on his last two holes to extend his match, then missed a 6-foot birdie on the 19th hole and lost to Stephen Ames.

Woods had an easy time against Tim Clark.

And suddenly, his path to an eighth straight PGA Tour victory looks a whole lot easier.

"I played better than I did yesterday, which is great,'' Woods said after making birdie on half his holes in a 5-and-4 victory. "Do a little bit of practice this afternoon and solidify some things, and tomorrow, hopefully I can play even better.''

But Woods, a two-time winner of this fickle event, knows not to look too far ahead.

Next up is Nick O'Hern, a short but straight-hitting Australian who beat Woods in the second round two years ago at La Costa. Still in Woods' side of the bracket is Henrik Stenson, who won in Dubai earlier this month when Woods finished two shots behind. Another winner was Trevor Immelman, the last player to win a PGA Tour event that Woods played - the Western Open last July.

And as well as Woods has played for two rounds - he is one of five players who has never trailed this week - there's always tomorrow.

"I've never played a match play event where all six rounds I've played great golf,'' he said. "You're going to have one or two rounds where you're not going to play well. You've just got to get through those matches. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't.''

Mickelson didn't.

His West Coast Swing ended in a 3-and-1 loss to that featured a dramatic shift in momentum. Rose was 1-up when he pulled his tee shot into the desert brush and had no choice but to pitch out backward, and had to hit his third shot to the green before Mickelson hit his second. And when Mickelson two-putted for par, he figured the match would be all square.

Rose's putt dropped on the final turn, and everything changed.

"It looked like all I had to do was make par and the match would be even,'' Mickelson said. "That hurt the most.''

His plan was to hit first on the par-3 16th to the middle of the green, away from what he called a "carnival'' pin cut atop a slope that fed off the green in two directions. Rose did the honors, and Mickelson felt he had to go after the flag. His 9-iron was about 10 feet long, enough to tumble off the green.

His next-to-impossible chip hit the hole, but trickled off the front of the green. His 25-foot par putt caught the lip and stayed out. And when Mickelson failed to birdie the par-5 17th, he removed his visor and conceded the match.

It was the first time in five years he failed to get to the third round.

Why not play it safe on the 16th and take his chances on the final two holes?

"The 17th was a hole we both would probably birdie,'' Mickelson said. "And I didn't want to leave it up to 18.''

Instead he was leaving, with Furyk, Singh, Retief Goosen and Luke Donald not far behind.

Goosen rallied from three holes down against Niclas Fasth, but the Swede birdied the 17th and held on for a 1-up victory. Donald might have been the most surprising loss, as he was 3-up until Aaron Baddeley won four of the last six holes, only twice with a birdie.

Campbell came up big on the 18th hole for the second straight day. In the opening round, he holed a 25-foot birdie putt to put away Angel Cabrera. This time, the Texan made birdie from 18 feet to force extra holes, and beat Furyk with a two-putt birdie.

Woods made sure there was no drama in his match against Clark, who is recovering from a neck injury and was playing his first tournament since last October.

Woods won the first two holes with a two-putt birdie and a bogey by Clark at No. 2, then poured it with three straight birdie putts. When he drove to the front of the 12th green for his seventh birdie of the round, and Clark missed a 4-footer, Woods was 6-up and counting the holes until it was over.

"I played well today. I put a lot of pressure on Timmy,'' Woods said. "He's still a little bit hurt. But I just wanted to put as much pressure as I possibly could on him and not give him any holes with bogeys. I did that today. I made a few putts, and Tim made a couple mistakes. And basically, I ended up having a pretty good-sized lead early in the match.''

It was the shortest match of the day, although equally impressive was Charles Howell III. Coming off his playoff victory at Riviera, Howell didn't miss a shot until the 13th hole, and by then he already had a 4-up lead on Sergio Garcia. He won, 4 and 3, atoning a second-round loss to Garcia in 2002 and advancing to the third round for the first time.

In 51 matches as a professional, including exhibitions, Woods has never lost to the same player twice. That streak - the only one that matters at this stage in the tournament - will be tested Friday, when rain and wind is in the forecast.

"I'm sure he will obviously take positive vibes from what he did the last time we played,'' Woods said. "But the whole idea is you've got to play well.''

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