Clark sends Woods to early exit at WGC-Accenture Match Play

Clark sends Woods to early exit at WGC-Accenture Match Play

Tiger Woods lost to Tim Clark, 4 and 2.
Robert Beck/SI

MARANA, Ariz — Tim Clark, welcome to an elite club: those who have gotten the better of Tiger Woods in match play.

Woods was a career 32-6 in the Accenture Match Play Championship until Thursday. Now he’s 32-7. The world number one’s much-publicized return to the PGA Tour after an eight month layoff ended earlier than expected as he was handed a 4 and 2 defeat by the gritty South African.

“I didn’t miss too many shots out there today,” Clark said. “That’s as good as I can play.”

Woods didn’t play poorly, but Clark played brilliantly, piling up six birdies against no bogeys. Woods managed four birdies but had three bogeys.

“I just didn’t make enough birdies,” Woods said. “I was pleased with the way I hit the ball for two days. I had one bad 8-iron and one bad drive. Tim is a wonderful player. He made birdies and I just didn’t answer him.”

The loss by Woods means that the top seeded player in all four brackets has been eliminated after two rounds. Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington lost in Wednesday’s first round, while Vijay Singh fell to Luke Donald in 19 holes Thursday.

Clark and Woods had a little history in this event. Woods drilled him in 2007 by a 5&4 margin, and it wasn’t as close as it sounds (which isn’t very close — Woods birdied the first hole and was off and running to a 5-up lead through the first six holes). Thursday’s rematch had a similar start, but the ending was very different.

Woods birdied the second hole and took a quick lead. It was no ordinary birdie. He ripped a terrific 3-wood from 286 yards that he stared down as it bounded onto the green. He two-putted for birdie and won the hole when Clark hit a poor wedge shot for his third and missed his birdie try to halve.

It was an early indication that this would be a match of remarkable shots. Clark squared the match at the fifth, sinking and unlikely birdie putt from 68 feet (across two ridges), the took the lead on the following hole when Tiger’s approach shot came up short and buried in the front bunker. Clark missed the green left but pitched it close for a routine par save. Woods gouged out of the bunker to 12 feet and missed his par effort.

Woods hit a sweet approach shot to the seventh and made the putt after Clark missed his attempt to level things again. But at the par-5 11th, a hole where Woods should have had an edge over the shorter-hitting South African, he hit a fairway bunker off the tee, missed the green, and lost the hole. Clark hit his tee shot on the par-3 12th to six feet to widen his lead to two up.

The reachable par-5 13th proved a turning point. On a hole just 541 yards long, Woods ripped a tee shot that Shotlink measured at 371 yards. Clark gouged his second shot from the rough (almost leaving his shoes behind with the force of his swing) and onto the green while Woods uncharacteristically missed the green with an 8-iron. When Clark two-putted for birdie and Woods’ putt lipped out, the hot favorite was three down and suddenly looking like an endangered species.

Typically, Woods did not go quietly. At the 14th he dumped his approach shot from a fairway bunker into a greenside bunker, then holed his next shot for a stunning birdie. He climbed out of the bunker pointing to the hole, like a heavyweight who still had more punches to throw. He was just two down with four holes to go.

But the momentum didn’t last long. The par-4 15th hole is drivable and Woods reached for his big stick, but blocked the shot way right. It wasn’t until walked to the ball that Woods learned it had cleared a boundary fence and was resting in the desert, out of bounds. Clark, after watching Tiger’s errant tee shot, made a mistake of his won by hitting a fairway wood off the tee into a fairway bunker. Woods returned to the tee, re-loaded and bombed a drive to the middle of the green. Clark extricated himself well, to the back fringe. Woods missed his par attempt and Clark got down in two to win the hole and go three up with three to play.

The end came quickly. At the par-3 16th Clark hit a six iron to within 10 feet. Woods missed the green right and when his birdie chip stopped just short, he conceded the match.

Clark’s victory over Woods was the upset of the day, but not the day’s only upset. Oliver Wilson made nine birdies (the best of the week so far) and he needed all of them to register a narrow 2 and 1 win over Anthony Kim.

It was deja vu all over again for Phil Mickelson, who needed extra holes to beat Angel Cabrera yesterday after losing a 4-up lead. Thursday he built another 4-up lead against Zach Johnson, and then watched things unravel again. Johnson won three of the next four holes to cut into Mickelson’s lead, but wasn’t able to make birdie at the 18th, giving Mickelson the win. Another American, Stewart Cink, needed extra holes — five of them, 23 holes in all — to beat Europe’s Lee Westwood.

In the wildest finish of the day, former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy rallied from a 2-down deficit with three holes to beat Shingo Katayama. The Japanese star sprayed his drive on the 18th into the desert, took an unplayable lie and had to concede the hole. On the first extra hole he drove into the desert again and conceded the match.