Even at his best, Woods had to sweat out his match play victory against Baddeley

Even at his best, Woods had to sweat out his match play victory against Baddeley

Katherine Hull made birdies on 17 and 18 to shoot a four-under 68.
Maria Strinni Gill/AP

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Twice he stood on the edge of the green as his opponent stood over a putt to win, a position Tiger Woods has been in before at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Contrary to popular belief, he is not perfect in his format.

There have been times when Woods has hit the ball sideways, when the putter has felt like a sledge hammer, and he wound up leaving earlier than he wanted. But in 33 previous matches at this fickle event, Woods has never played so well and sweat so much.

“Ten birdies and we’re still playing,” caddie Steve Williams said as Woods’ match with Aaron Baddeley headed for the 18th.

It finally ended on the 20th hole when Woods made his 12th birdie.

The final birdie was from 13 feet, so true that instead of pumping his fist, Woods began removing his cap when the ball was a foot from falling. Maybe he was too tired to celebrate. He certainly was impressed, not only with his play, but that of Baddeley, an Australian who shot 80 in the final round of the U.S. Open the last time they played together.

“I birdied, he birdied. He birdied, I birdied,” Woods said. “It was unbelievable how many birdies we made out there today.”

They made 22 between them.

Their best-ball score through 18 holes would have been a 58.

Woods gave away two holes with tee shots into the high desert. Baddeley gave away one hole when he tried to whack a wedge out of a prickly pear on the par-5 fifth.

Those were the exceptions.

“It was quality shot after quality shot,” Woods said. “Matches like that are fun to be part of.”

This one became more enjoyable to the world’s No. 1 player because of the way it ended. Woods advanced to the quarterfinals for the fifth time in nine years, and the first time since he won his second straight title in 2004 at La Costa.

Baddeley might be haunted by two putts he had for the win, one that was difficult, one that surprised him.

His 10-foot birdie attempt on the 18th hole looked simple enough, but Woods had a 12-foot birdie putt from above the hole, barely rapped it and watched it trickled 4 1/2 feet by the hole. Baddeley knew his putt would swing sharply from right-to-left, and he didn’t play enough break. If he got too aggressive, it would have gone past Woods’ ball.

The surprise came on the first hole, the 19th of their match.

True to form — and Baddeley was in great form — he launched an approach on the par 5 and said forcefully, “Be right,” which it was, leaving him a 12-foot eagle putt. The Aussie didn’t see any break in the putt until it veered slightly to the left and burned the edge.

After halving the hole with a birdie, Baddeley dropped his ball down and tried again. This one went straight and into the cup. Sadly, mulligans aren’t allowed in match play.

“Nothing you can do, really,” he said.

The reference was to the putt. It might as well have been for the entire match.

He made eight birdies in a nine-hole stretch, one that was conceded from 12 feet when Woods’ tee shot plunked a marshal in the head and ricocheted into the desert, squaring the match. That still wasn’t enough.

“I played great, you know?” Baddeley said. “I made him have to win it.”

Next up for Woods is K.J. Choi, a 1-up winner over Paul Casey of England. Typical of this tournament, those two matches could not have been any different. While Woods and Baddeley combined for 22 birdies and had a best-ball score of 58 in regulation, Choi cooled after opening with three birdies, finishing with 11 straight pars. That was good enough to advance.

The World Golf Championship again has an American flavor. They began this week with a record-low 20 players, but there is still one American alive in each bracket.

Woody Austin easily handled Boo Weekley, 3 and 2, to advance to play defending champion Henrik Stenson, who hung on to beat Jonathan Byrd. Stenson won his ninth straight match, the third-longest streak in the Match Play Championship.

Stewart Cink took advantage of sloppy play by Colin Montgomerie to deny the Scot valuable world ranking points, winning 4 and 2. Cink will play U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, who made six birdies on the front nine and beat Steve Stricker, 4 and 3.

Justin Leonard dispatched Stuart Appleby, 3 and 2, running off five straight birdies at the turn. He plays Vijay Singh, who rallied from 2 down with two holes to play and beat Rod Pampling on the 25th hole.

Cabrera and Leonard are the only players to have not played the 18th hole at Dove Mountain.

Byrd had not played the 15th hole until Friday, and he birdied it to square his match with Stenson. The big Swede took advantage of his power to win the 17th, then hung on for the victory.

No match was more compelling than Woods and Baddeley.

The Aussie, who first played a practice round with Woods as an 18-year-old amateur, took his first lead with a 12-foot birdie on the 14th, after Woods missed from 15 feet. From there, Baddeley played away from the dangerous slopes to the center of the green, making Woods beat him.

“He did all the things you were supposed to do when you have the lead,” Woods said.

And Woods did what he usually does, starting with an 8-iron into 2 feet for birdie on the 16th to tie the match. And on they went, both reaching the par-5 17th in two for a putt at eagle, both finding the 18th fairway for a decent look at birdie on the 18th.

Woods could only think of one other match he played at such a high level, when he went the 36-hole distance with Mark O’Meara in the final of the World Match Play Championship in England in 1998.

He lost that match. This time, he gets to keep playing.

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