MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Jonathan Byrd has played only 27 holes in his two rounds at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Defending champion Henrik Stenson played almost that many in one day.
Paul Casey had to make nine birdies in the opening round to win on the 18th hole. He followed that by making only two birdies and didn’t even have to play the 18th hole.
No one ever said match play was fair.
Just ask Phil Mickelson.
“Unfortunately, I just didn’t shoot low enough,” Mickelson said after playing the second-best round among 32 players Thursday at Dove Mountain. Trouble was, he was playing Stuart Appleby, who had the best round. Appleby made his ninth birdie on the 17th hole for a 2-and-1 victory that sent Mickelson packing.
When the dust settled in the high desert, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were the only ones left among the top eight seeds in his wacky, wonderful tournament.
Woods was on the ropes in the opening round until a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle stretch late in the day allowed him to escape. He had no such worries against Arron Oberholser, building a quick lead and disposing of him in a 3-and-2 victory.
“Match play is an animal that’s all about the moment,” Woods said. “It’s not about building toward Sunday. If you don’t play well, you’re going home.”
Only 16 players were remaining going into the third round Friday, some of them lucky to still be around.
K.J. Choi played 19 holes in even par. Against anyone else on a sunny, breezy day north of Tucson, he would have lost. Just his luck he was playing Ian Poulter, who said recently that when he lived up to his potential, he would be the only one capable of challenging Woods. Poulter apparently is not there yet.
Stricker feels fortunate, too.
True, he has not fallen behind on a single hole through two matches, but both matches went 20 holes. His was the most exciting of the second round against Hunter Mahan, a partner in the Presidents Cup when they won two of three matches.
Mahan birdied the 17th hole to square the match, and after Stricker hit his approach to 2 feet on the 18th for a tap-in birdie, Mahan made his birdie from 15 feet to force overtime.
Mahan made a 10-footer for birdie. Stricker matched him from the same distance, opposite side of the hole. On the second extra hole, Stricker rammed in a birdie putt from just inside 50 feet to win the watch.
“If mine doesn’t hit the hole, I’m probably past him for sure. I don’t know whether it stays on the edge of that green,” Stricker said. “I mean, it was really fast. But it went right in the middle.”
And that’s all that matter.
In fact, having a starting time Friday is all that matters.
Stenson was 4 up through eight holes, then needed 17 more holes to beat Trevor Immelman for the second straight time. Last year, Stenson beat him in the semifinals. This earned him a third-round match with Byrd.
“You do know there’s a 15th hole out there,” Justin Leonard said to Byrd, and it was a fair question because Byrd hasn’t gotten that far in his two matches.
David Toms never made it to the first tee. His back started troubling him late in his victory over Masters champion Zach Johnson, and he had to withdraw before playing Aaron Baddeley.
Baddeley now goes from a day off to the No. 1 players in the world, facing Woods in the third round.
– Sergio Garcia went 2 up with an eagle on the 10th hole, then bogeyed three of the next four holes, twice with three-putts. He wound up losing, 3 and 1, to Boo Weekley.
– Colin Montgomerie went from 2 up to 1 down when Charles Howell III ran off four straight birdies. Monty’s caddie told him to put on his “Ryder Cup cap,” Monty obeyed by making three birdies in four holes, and he was in the third round.
– Adam Scott looked to be in control over Woody Austin. Scott missed three putts inside 10 feet on the final four holes. Austin, made three putts inside 8 feet and won the match.
“You have to get lucky,” Austin said. “I think our No. 1 player found that out yesterday. Even him.”
No such luck required for Woods.
After chopping it around Wednesday, he sorted out his swing on the range, then went to his room and did more work in front of the mirror. It helped playing Oberholser, still struggling with his shoulder injury, who didn’t win a hole until No. 12.
“You’d better get organized quick and get off to a quick start and never give holes away,” Woods said. “That’s one of the things that I did today versus yesterday. I never gave Arron a hole. He had to earn holes.”
Woods and Stricker were among seven Americans still in the tournament, with the Stars & Stripes alive in each of the four brackets. One of them is Stewart Cink, who faces Colin Montgomerie on Friday.
Stricker has not been this far since winning in Australia in 2001, and while the scenery has changed, one thing hasn’t.
“I’m still playing. That’s the key to this event,” Stricker said. “The key is to be standing and going on to the next day, no matter how many holes it goes. I feel fortunate.”