Live-Blogging Tiger's Return: Wednesday's first-round at the Match Play
Connell Barrett, editor at large for Golf Magazine, live-blogged Wednesday afternoon's match between Tiger Woods and Brendan Jones.
Tiger Woods defeats Brendan Jones, 3 and 2 6:24: That's my time! Thanks for reading, posting and (sometimes) ranting. Log in tomorrow when Golf.com live-blogs Tiger's match against Tim Clark, who has just defeated Retief Goosen. Until then. 6:19: After his match, Tiger told Golf Channel, "I felt good. I got off to a good start, which certainly helps. I had some loose irons, but I got it back." As for nerves, "I told Steve, 'It felt like we hadn't been gone, like it's business as usual.' " The knee, he added, "felt good. It held up. I'll probably be a little bit sore later, but I'll be good to go tomorrow." 6:13: It's all over! Tiger wins. Jones knocked his putt five feet past, then made the comebacker. Tiger made his 3-footer, which would have fallen if the cup was six inches wide. Tiger's return is in the books. Stand by for comments from Tiger. 6:08: From a good lie in the bunker, Tiger hits it to about three feet. Jones needs to hole his putt to extend the match, most likely. 6:03: On the 184-yard par-3 16th, Jones sticks his tee shot to about 20 feet. He'll need better than that to pull off a miracle, right? Tiger -- maybe, possibly -- feeling the pressure... dumps his iron in the left bunker. Somewhere, Dick Enberg is saying, "Oh my!" 6:01: "Hellooo, Dolly!" Azinger says. (Huh?) Jones calmly drops the putt to win the hole -- like he was on the practice green. He lives! Tiger is 3-up with 3 to play. Nahhh, couldn't be the start of something big, could it? 5:59: Woods cozies his putt to gimme range. Jones putts to stay in the match... 5:54: Tiger punishes a fairway wood off the tee on the 315-yard par-4 15th. He hit it 297 yards to the front and let it trundle to 25 feet. Next, Jones. "It's a daunting thought, when you need to make a 2 on a par-4 to continue the match," Faldo says. But Jones gives himself a chance, scaring the hole on his best shot of the day. He has a 9 footer for eagle. 5:52: Tiger stat, per a reader's request: I've got Woods at 1-under on the day, through 14. Woods is about to tee off... 5:47: Non-update update: There's 12-car pileup on the 15th tee. Tiger hasn't teed off yet, but he's stretching the heck out of his hammies. It's quite dramatic in high-def. 5:43: WIth Tiger's match winding down, Top 100 Teacher Rick Grayson looks ahead. "What we haven't seen today is Tiger losing many shots to the right. That can happen when you're tired or fatigued. Obviously, it's not happening today, but it could creep into his game the further he gets into the event. It takes time to get your sea legs after eight months off." 5:35: Sports Illustrated's Dick Friedman wonders, "I'll be fascinated to see what viewership numbers are for today. I suspect a lot of folks watched Obama's address last night, got a little sleep, and flipped on the WGC." 5:32: So, all Brendan Jones has to do is reel off four straight holes against the World No. 1 in his Big Comeback. Any takers? Anyone? 5:30: Jones has a seven footer for par to extend the match on 14. He makes a confident stroke, drains it, and they're on 15. 5:25: With 168 yards to the green on the par-4 14th, Tiger hits a safe iron to the center of the green, seemingly playing for par, about 30 feet away. If he wins the hole, the match is over. 5:18: Jones may lose the match but not his sense of humor. TGC's Mark Rolfing said that while walking from the 13th green after Tiger's eagle, Jones joked, "I've got him right where I want him." 5:17: Tiger rolls his downhill eagle putt dead center into the hole, his second eagle of the day. 4-up with 5 to play. He lifts his putter for punctuation, but no fist pumps yet. Jones' hopes are on life support. 5:09: After a 336-yard drive on 13, Tiger blasts a 247-yard 5-iron to perhaps 15 feet. From a similar distance, Jones muscles an iron into the back bunker. Tiger putting for eagle to go 4-up. 5:06: Hitting driver on the 583-yard par-5 13th, Tiger unleashes a loose swing and slams his driver down in anger, but no worries. A generous bounce in the fairway leaves him with a nice lie just off the fairway. 5:00: From a shaggy lie, Jones chunks his would-be lob shot, leaving his ball in the rough. Tiger chips to gimme range. Jones fails to hole his third, and Tiger goes 3-up with 6 to play. 4:54: On the 221-yard downhill par-3 12th, Tiger hit his iron approach to the right, just off the green about 35-40 feet from the hole. Jones nuked his iron over the green and into the rough, near the granstand. He'll get a drop. But he'll have an awkward lie on the downslope, with little room on a nobby green. 4:51: Email from David Feherty. "I'm glad it's not me playing Tiger today. Who needs that kind of pressure? If I had to play him, I'd send out a body double -- a much better looking one." 4:49: Jones stuffs the putt, which he had to do. Hole halved with pars. 4:47: Tiger 2-putts for par. Jones chips and leaves himself a 6-footer to avoid going 3-down. 4:44: Jones misses the green long with a wedge. Tiger has the edge on 11. 4:39: Some drama: After a poor tee shot and a lay-up on the par-five 11th, Tiger (this is not a misprint) had 263 yards for his THIRD shot into the green. "Let's hit a cut 3-wood up there," he tells his caddie Steve Williams. "Yeah, that's fine," Williams says. "Be the club!" Tiger shouts after contact. He knocks it to about 30 feet. He'll be putting for birdie. 4:38: Another reader asks, "Can you provide any insight on his conditioning? Has it appeared that he’s limping any?" Tiger is walking with a confident gait. I' seen abolutely no sign of pain or discomfort in his knee. This jibes with what Hank Haney said a couple days ago: "His legs are stronger than ever... Now, his bones aren't rattling." 4:32: Davis Love has advanced, taking out Stenson in (count 'em) 21 holes. 4:29: A comment from an enthused reader named Vince: "I am not an avid golf fan, but when Tiger is on the greens, I watch, or read, as the case may be. It is like watching Michael Jordan or Michael Phelps. It is just awe-inspiring. Go America!" 4:25: They swap two-putts on 10, for two pars. No blood. Eight months after his last round, Woods has some cobwebs on his putter. He's left himself stressful comebackers on his last two lag putts. 4:22: From 156 yards out -- after a 294-yard drive -- Tiger leaves his approach on 10 just shy of the green. He'll have a lengthy uphill putt. Jones knocks a short iron to about 12 feet -- a small opening for the 33-year-old Aussie. He's settled down nicely after a rocky start. 4:18: Pulling driver on the 450-yard par-4 10th, Tiger tugs it but gets away with it. His ball trickles just off of the left side of the fairway. He'll have an iron in. 4:11: Tiger -- putting through his shadow, his pants flapping in a harsher wind -- makes a touchy four-footer for par on 9. The TGC quickly went to commercial, but it appeared that Woods conceded Jones his own short par putt. To 10. 4:07: Woods, with 150 yards left, finds the green. Again, no information on his drive length from TGC, but the hole plays 452 yards, and Tiger appeared to hit 3-wood on 9. That's a 302-yard drive with a 3-wood, by my calculations. 3:59: Blog reader Bill Callahan asks: "Tiger's driving with his 3-wood . . . what kind of distance is he getting with it today?" I wish I could tell you, Bill. The Golf Channel has rarely announced the clubs Tiger has pulled or the yardages he's been hitting. Whenever they tell me, I'll post it. 3:56: Jones misses, pulling his putt left. Tiger -- let's call it 8 feet -- drops his putt, curling it in on the right side of the cup. Woods regains his 2-hole lead. 3:53: Tiger hits a "sawed-off lob with Seve spin," Faldo says, to about six feet. Jones leaves himself about 10 feet. Both have birdie putts. 3:49: Both Tiger and Jones miss the green on 8. Jones' second shot rolls into a hollow on the near side of the green. Woods, from a hanging fairway lie, finds the other side, but with much less real estate. He'll have to hit a high, soft wedge. Will one get up and down for birdie? Advantage Jones. 3:45: Woods rips a 3-wood down the middle of the par-5 8th. 3:39: After leaving his approach to 7 well short, Woods can't salvage par. It's his third bogey of the day. Jones 2-putts and walks off the green 1-down. 3:32: Mickelson brushes in a short birdie putt to finally down the Duck on the 19th hole. Lefty, who lost three straight, advances. 3:27: Tiger has been hitting a lot of fairway woods -- and hitting a lot of fairways. On the par-4 seventh tee, he splits the fairway again, giving another cocksure club twirl. The swing looks well-oiled. No sign of any knee issues. (Jones, on the other hand, seems weak in his.) 3:25: Tiger 2-putts on 6. Jones, using a putter that's taller than Corey Pavin, pulls his birdie putt. No blood. Opportunity lost. Onto 7. 3:19: Tiger misses a par putt on 5. Bogey. Jones salvages his own bogey to halve the hole. Tiger must be roiling. He hates hates HATES making bogey. Then, on the par-3 6th, Tiger makes a bad-for-him-but-you'd-take-it swing and finds the middle of the green, leaving a lengthy downhill putt. Jones hits his to inside 10 feet. Can he cut Tiger's lead to 1? 3:11: On the 18th hole of their even match, Phil Mickelson knocks a 45-footer with Scarlett Johansson curves to tap-in range. Birdie. Cabrera matches him. It's extra holes for "Lefty and the Duck" (my favorite '80s detective show.) 3:09: Well, three out of four ain't bad. On the par-five fifth, Tiger misses his first (of four) fairways, finding the right rough. His second shot finds a greenside bunker. Jones lies two well short of the green, so this is will be a short-game showdown. 3:04: Tiger and Jones halve the fourth. Should we be shocked if Tiger exceeds expectations and dusts the whole field this week? His caddie Steve Williams told me, "I've been with Tiger for 10 years, and he keeps surprising even me. Sometimes I shake my head." And Williams has caddied for nine major winners. 2:58: Here comes the Duck! Cabrera birdies 17 (his third straight), squaring his match with Mickelson with one to play. 2:54: A typically candid Paul Azinger, in the booth with Faldo: "[Jones] has to get it together or it's going to be a blow out." Seconds later, Jones hits a fat second shot from a bare lie, leaving an awkard pitch to the green. Tiger's on the green in two. A two-putt could give him a 3-up lead. 2:50: On the par-4 fourth, Tiger finds his third straight fairway. Jones fans a wood somewhere between Tucson and Tombstone. "You gotta feel sorry for him," Faldo says. "He's sensing things he's never sensed in his life." 2:45: No blood on the third for Tiger and Jones. They swap bogeys and head to the fourth. 2:40: On the watery 205-yard par-3 third, Woods leaves his tee shot too far out to the right and finds the greenside bunker. Jones found the back collar. Meanwhile, Mickelson was 4-up on Angel Cabrera but has lost three straight holes to the U.S. Open champ. Cabrera is now 1-down with two to play. 2:38: The Golf Channel's Faldo on Tiger: "His left knee used to move around." Woods now looks "more stable and smoother. That's worrying for everybody." Update! Jones missed his birdie putt on the second hole and conceded TIger's eagle putt. Woods, 2-up. 2:33: Tiger hits a 200-plus-yard second shot iron into the par-5 second green. HIGH. Michael Phelps high. The ball was glowing upon re-entry. About five feet for eagle. I just did a Starbucks latte spit-take. Wow. 2:29: Hey, keep those comments coming, blog readers. I'll post some soon. A note: We're only live-blogging the Tiger match (wait, there are other people playing today?), but I'll do my best to mention highlights of other matches as they progress. 2:27: Tiger stripes his drive on the par-5 second. That's two fairways hit, two Patented Tiger Club Twirls. "He might win 10-and-8," says Top 100 Teacher Rick Grayson. "You'd think he was right in the middle of the golf season." 2:21: Jones, from the left-hand bunker, knocks it to about four feet. Tiger has a 6-footer for birdie and the win. He stalks his putt, NO sign of limping or favoring his left knee. Woods drops the putt to win the hole and take a one-hole lead. Ahhh, the redemptive power of 254 days off. 2:17: Tiger, who is 8-1 lifetime in first-round Match Play matches, has 166 yards to the hole. He carves a HIGH iron to about six feet. He looks disappointed in the swing, leaning to his left. Ho-hum. Six feet for birdie. Jones leaves short his approach from the rough. He'll need to scramble for par. Advantange: Tiger. 2:10: Tiger, in a powder-blue shirt and black slacks, hits a high, tight draw down the right-hand side of the first fairway. "You are BACK, baby!" a fan enthuses. Jones, to his credit, looks relaxed. He tees his ball with a steady hand (I'm shaking more than he is!) and just misses the fairway on the par-4 opening hole. 2:05: Pre-game: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Rick Grayson expects Tiger to storm out of the gate today. "I look for him to come out like Secretariat. The intimidation factor will be huge. Also, in match-play, Tiger has an ability to focus and concentrate better than anyone who's ever played." 2:01: He's baaa-aack. Eight months after his U.S. Open triumph, Tiger Woods tees off in mere minutes. Rejoice! If you're chained to your cubicle wall, or if you're just a golf lover like me, Golf.com's live blog will be with you for every long-anticipated shot. Superman returns!