It wasn't theoutfit. Tiger Woods was wearing a black shirt and hat, with charcoal-grayslacks. It must've been his sinewy arms and buff, V-shaped upper body, and thefaster-than-a-speeding-bullet, 341-yard drive he had just launched at the 4thhole of the Gallery at Dove Mountain. Whatever, as Woods strode down thefairway a starstruck fan blurted out, "Wow! He looks like Superman!" ¬∂Woods was making his first visit to Tucson, which explains the Tigermania, butwho's to argue? With 55 PGA Tour wins and 12 major championships, and riding aTour winning streak of seven, Tiger did appear to be the Man of Steel. But golfis not a movie, and while the Accenture Match Play Championship was filled withupsets, heroics, blunders and drama, plus a terrific Sunday final in whichHenrik Stenson of Sweden defeated Geoff Ogilvy of Australia 2 and 1, the matchof the week was played two days earlier on a chilly, windy Friday. That's whenSuperman caught a cold.
Baseball's JoeDiMaggio had Ken Keltner, Ken Jennings of Jeopardy had Nancy Zerg, and now itcan be said that Tiger Woods has Nick O'Hern, a.k.a. Buzz Killjoy. In 2005O'Hern, a gangly, lefthanded Australian who speaks softly and carries a bigstick--the long-shafted putter he wields better than anyone in the game--hadknocked Woods out of the Match Play in the second round. In the first tworounds last week Woods had cruised past J.J. Henry and Tim Clark, and thechances of Tiger allowing a Punch and Judy hitter like O'Hern to defeat himagain were less than those of Barry Bonds winning a popularity contest. No onehad ever beaten Tiger twice in match play. No one, that is, until O'Hern, whodid it with a scrambling par on the second hole of a playoff.
So how does itfeel to beat Tiger twice? "It's something to tell the grandkids, Iguess," said O'Hern, who practically yawned while giving the answer.
And what aboutending Tiger's bid to match Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight wins?"Yeah, that's right," O'Hern said, feigning surprise. "Tiger wasgoing for eight in a row, wasn't he?" O'Hern paused. "I don't pay toomuch attention, to be honest." Thanks, Buzz.
March 5, 2007
With that, theStreak was over. It was a shocker because Woods seemed destined to at leastmatch Nelson's record. If he had gotten through the Match Play, victory number9 could've come at Bay Hill, where he has won four times; number 10 could'vecome at Doral, where he has won the last two years; and historic number 11could've come at the Masters, which he has won four times in 12 starts. Easy?No. Realistic? Absolutely.
Woods's path tothe Match Play final looked like a cinch as every player in the top 10 of theWorld Ranking was gone by the weekend, except No. 8 Stenson. There were noFuryks, 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 inthe Quad Cities Open during his first weeks as a pro. February 23 will go downas the day Tiger finally played a game with which we weren't familiar. He madetwo 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 rightand ended up partially blocked by a tree. His ensuing desperate trick shotairmailed 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.
Despite hisstruggles, Tiger rolled in a birdie putt on the next hole. Three down. Then heforcefully drained a 10-footer at the 11th, walking off the green with hisputter raised, acknowledging the roars. Two down. He gave fist pumps after anice 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 Rintoulcould barely be heard when he said, "Stevie Williams [Tiger's caddie] justtold me, 'It's starting to feel a whole lot warmer now,' and I don't think hemeant the weather."
When O'Hern neededtwo 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 aprodigious drive at the 18th, even O'Hern knew that Tiger would make birdie tosend the match to overtime.
Then came Tiger'sfatal error. On the first extra hole, he was in front of the par-5 1st green intwo. A routine up-and-down likely would have won the match. Tiger chipped 3 1/2feet past. O'Hern missed his 20-footer for birdie and was so resigned to a lossthat when his caddie handed him his ball for the next hole, O'Hern scolded him,saying, "C'mon, mate, he doesn't miss these." But Woods did miss, noteven catching a piece of the cup. He later blamed an unfixed ball mark that hesaid he had failed to notice.
Both playersmissed the green at the par-4 2nd hole. O'Hern played a bunker shot to 12 feetand Woods chipped to 15 feet. After Woods missed his par attempt, O'Hern curledin his putt for the win, earning a smattering of applause followed by anavalanche of stunned silence. Woods was devastated. "It wasn't thestreak," he said glumly. "It's the fact that I didn't pay attention todetail. I got so enthralled and focused on the line, something so simple [theball mark] simply escaped me."
So the Streak wasdead, but the matches went on, and someday the Stenson-Ogilvy final, scheduledfor 36 holes, may be remembered as a clash of the titans. We've all beenwaiting for someone to push Woods, and Stenson and Ogilvy could be the guys.They fit the profile--big hitters who can chip and putt.
Ogilvy provedhimself last year by winning the Match Play and then the U.S. Open with clutchshotmaking on the closing holes while bigger names were folding. Stenson provedit last week and vaulted to fifth in the World Ranking, jumping ahead of VijaySingh (9th), Retief Goosen (8th) and Ernie Els (6th). "I can't say I shouldbe Number 5 in the world, but I feel as if I've established myself as a top 20player," said Stenson, who, some may recall, quietly finished third at lastyear's Players Championship.
Ogilvy and Stensonare young--29 and 30, respectively--and fearless. Granted, the Gallery'sopening seven holes run slightly downhill, but Ogilvy's first five drivesmeasured between 340 and 351 yards. He hammered a 296-yard three-wood to twofeet for a kick-in eagle at the 5th hole.
Stenson iced theback-and-forth final with a near-ace on the 34th hole (the par-3 16th) and abirdie at the 17th, where he impressively muscled his second shot at the601-yard par-5 onto the green. "He hits it long, hits it decent, obviouslychips and putts pretty well, and he's not afraid to win tournaments," saysOgilvy. "I can't see any tournament he couldn't win."
The shot of theweek, not counting Tiger's missed putt, belonged to Stenson. It came on the18th hole of his quarterfinal match against O'Hern when he hit a sensationalwedge shot off bare ground that spun to within two feet for a spectacular parthat won the hole and the match, 1 up.
It wasn't a bird.It wasn't a plane. It was simply super, man.
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A rules official said, "Stevie Williams [Tiger'scaddie] just told me, 'It's starting to feel a whole lot warmer now,' AND IDON'T THINK HE MEANT THE WEATHER."
Ogilvy says Stenson "hits it long, hits it decent,obviously chips and putts pretty well, and he's not afraid to win tournaments.I CAN'T SEE ANY TOURNAMENT HE COULDN'T WIN."