MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Stewart Cink didn’t have reason to hope he would survive the first round of the Match Play Championship.
Edoardo Molinari of Italy already was 4 up through seven holes, and as Cink walked up to the par-5 eighth green at Dove Mountain, he found his ball in the middle of a desert bush.
“Didn’t look very promising,” he said.
It was a familiar position for the British Open champion. Two years ago in the championship match against Tiger Woods, Cink also was 4 down through eight holes and never recovered.
This match worked out better.
“I played one of the best nine holes I’ve ever played,” Cink said after his 2-up victory. “I really just drove it well. I made a couple of key putts and holed out a bunker shot, and just kept applying the pressure.”
Back to No. 8.
Molinari hit into a fairway bunker, had to lay up and hit wedge to 30 feet. Cink hit 2-iron a little to the right, and was surprised to see where it landed.
“I really started thinking about Delta’s schedule back to Atlanta,” he said.
But he hacked it out into the rough, got up-and-down for par and halved the hole. Two holes later, he began his comeback by winning the 10th, 11th and 12th. Cink squared the match with a birdie on the 14th and took his first lead with a 15-foot birdie on the 17th.
Cink credited Padraig Harrington, who rallied twice from big deficits to beat him.
“I didn’t like being 4 up and then going back to even. It’s hard to play golf in that circumstance. And that’s how I felt like my opponent felt today,” Cink said.
Next up for Cink is Sean O’Hair.
OVERTIME: Ian Poulter against Justin Leonard promised to be a good match between players of similar distance off the tee who are good fighters. It lived up to its billing.
Leonard was on the verge of going 3 up after nine holes when Poulter found a fairway bunker at No. 9 and hit it heavy, headed for the desert. It barely cleared a cactus, hit the cart path for more roll, and he hit wedge to 3 feet for par.
Poulter eventually squared the match with a birdie on the 13th, took the lead with a 25-foot birdie from the fringe on the 14th and appeared to be in control until Leonard made a birdie on the 18th.
Then came overtime, and Poulter was sure he had it won.
Leonard went into the desert and had to take an unplayable lie. His first drop was headed into another unplayable lie until it hit a rock and bounced forward, closer to the hole.
“A huge break, because he could drop again,” Poulter said.
Leonard took a successful penalty drop and barely reached the front of the green 100 feet away. Poulter hit 9-iron to 5 feet.
Poulter was watching the 1999 Ryder Cup on TV, and remembers the putt heard ’round the world. But not this one.
“I turned to my caddie and said, ‘If he makes this one, I’m walking in,”‘ Poulter said. “This putt broke four times. It was good all the way and stopped 6 inches short of the hole.”
Little wonder that Poulter referred to Leonard as “one tough cookie.”
NATIONAL PRIDE: The Americans had 20 players in the Match Play Championship, which was not a record low for this event.
Only eight of them advanced to the second round, which is a record.
Three of them were eliminated in All-American opening matches – Jim Furyk over Scott Verplank, Brian Gay over Kenny Perry and Matt Kuchar beating Anthony Kim.
They still have more players than any other country. England has six players remaining, while Australia has three.
STENSON: None of the alternates showed up at Dove Mountain, so maybe Henrik Stenson did them a favor. The big Swede at least made it through one hole before conceding his match.
Stenson was in bed with flulike symptoms, but still tried to give it a shot.
“The first tournament of the year in America didn’t really turn out the way I had hoped,” Stenson said. “As soon as I tried to start to hit balls, it was an out-of-body experience. It was no point, really.”
Why bother playing?
Stenson is a PGA Tour member this year, meaning he has to play 15 events. This counts toward the 15.
The good news is that he can head back home and not worry about missing the birth of his second child, due in a week. He plans to return in time for Doral the second week of the Florida swing.
DIVOTS: Five players who had never competed in the Match Play Championship won their opening matches – Ryo Ishikawa, Nick Watney, Matt Kuchar, Brian Gay and Ross McGowan. … Robert Karlsson, playing for the fifth time in this event, won his first match by beating Rory Sabbatini in 20 holes. … Tim Clark has gone retro, using a yellow golf ball.