It wasn't the
outfit. Tiger Woods was wearing a black shirt and hat, with charcoal-gray
slacks. It must've been his sinewy arms and buff, V-shaped upper body, and the
faster-than-a-speeding-bullet, 341-yard drive he had just launched at the 4th
hole of the Gallery at Dove Mountain. Whatever, as Woods strode down the
fairway a starstruck fan blurted out, "Wow! He looks like Superman!" �
Woods was making his first visit to Tucson, which explains the Tigermania, but
who's to argue? With 55 PGA Tour wins and 12 major championships, and riding a
Tour winning streak of seven, Tiger did appear to be the Man of Steel. But golf
is not a movie, and while the Accenture Match Play Championship was filled with
upsets, heroics, blunders and drama, plus a terrific Sunday final in which
Henrik Stenson of Sweden defeated Geoff Ogilvy of Australia 2 and 1, the match
of the week was played two days earlier on a chilly, windy Friday. That's when
Superman caught a cold.
DiMaggio had Ken Keltner, Ken Jennings of Jeopardy had Nancy Zerg, and now it
can be said that Tiger Woods has Nick O'Hern, a.k.a. Buzz Killjoy. In 2005
O'Hern, a gangly, lefthanded Australian who speaks softly and carries a big
stick--the long-shafted putter he wields better than anyone in the game--had
knocked Woods out of the Match Play in the second round. In the first two
rounds last week Woods had cruised past J.J. Henry and Tim Clark, and the
chances of Tiger allowing a Punch and Judy hitter like O'Hern to defeat him
again were less than those of Barry Bonds winning a popularity contest. No one
had ever beaten Tiger twice in match play. No one, that is, until O'Hern, who
did it with a scrambling par on the second hole of a playoff.
So how does it
feel to beat Tiger twice? "It's something to tell the grandkids, I
guess," said O'Hern, who practically yawned while giving the answer.
And what about
ending Tiger's bid to match Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight wins?
"Yeah, that's right," O'Hern said, feigning surprise. "Tiger was
going for eight in a row, wasn't he?" O'Hern paused. "I don't pay too
much attention, to be honest." Thanks, Buzz.
With that, the
Streak was over. It was a shocker because Woods seemed destined to at least
match Nelson's record. If he had gotten through the Match Play, victory number
9 could've come at Bay Hill, where he has won four times; number 10 could've
come at Doral, where he has won the last two years; and historic number 11
could've come at the Masters, which he has won four times in 12 starts. Easy?
No. Realistic? Absolutely.
Woods's path to
the Match Play final looked like a cinch as every player in the top 10 of the
World Ranking was gone by the weekend, except No. 8 Stenson. There were no
Furyks, Phils or Ernies--not even a DiMarco--standing in the way.
On top of that,
Tiger hadn't really botched a Tour finish since he got dusted by Ed Fiori in
the Quad Cities Open during his first weeks as a pro. February 23 will go down
as the day Tiger finally played a game with which we weren't familiar. He made
two doubles and an X over the first seven holes, going 4 down in the process.
His X came at the driveable par-4 7th hole, where he lost his tee shot right
and ended up partially blocked by a tree. His ensuing desperate trick shot
airmailed the green and disappeared into the desert, and he conceded the hole.
"I just didn't have control of my swing," Woods would say later.
struggles, Tiger rolled in a birdie putt on the next hole. Three down. Then he
forcefully drained a 10-footer at the 11th, walking off the green with his
putter raised, acknowledging the roars. Two down. He gave fist pumps after a
nice up-and-down for birdie at the 12th. One down.
Tiger was into it,
and so was the crowd. On the way to the 13th tee, rules official Steve Rintoul
could barely be heard when he said, " Stevie Williams [Tiger's caddie] just
told me, 'It's starting to feel a whole lot warmer now,' and I don't think he
meant the weather."
When O'Hern needed
two tries to get a chip shot onto the 15th green, the match was all square.
Woods went 1 down again after flubbing a three-iron at 17, but when he hit a
prodigious drive at the 18th, even O'Hern knew that Tiger would make birdie to
send the match to overtime.