It is true, match play really is Tiger Woods's kryptonite. Yesterday, Shaun Micheel became the latest mortal to expose the golfing superman's fallibility with a first-round drubbing which dominated a day of shocks here.
This World Match Play was supposed to be the glorious curtain-raiser to three weeks of the world No 1 being in the British Isles, where he would lengthen his five-tournament winning run and then go on to shatter the myth about Tiger being a Ryder Cup pussycat. But that carefully-planned - not to mention richly-funded - game plan needs hurried rewriting after a four and three defeat to the world No 77 where his fabled putting game inexplicably abandoned him.
Ian Woosnam, the watching home captain, must have been in wonderland as he thought about the implications for next week's tussle at the K Club. Before yesterday, Woods had looked unbeatable after embarking on a streak after his Open victory at Hoylake two months ago. Now, the Euros cannot wait to get at him again.
Indeed, their own showing yesterday could only have magnified their confidence. Of Woosnam's five men competing for the biggest first prize in golf - £1m - only David Howell lost and then only to a Cup team-mate in Colin Montgomerie and then only in the opening round's most thrilling encounter with the latter nailing a brilliant pitch on the final hole to nudge out the despondent Englishman. Otherwise, it was all smiles wrapped in a blue and gold flag as Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson joined the Scot in today's quarter-finals.
Woosnam would have been most impressed by Karlsson's four and three destruction of Jim Furyk, although Casey's six-and-four bypassing of Retief Goosen ran it mighty close. What made the Swede's success the more remarkable, though, was the class of his opponent as well as his own big-time inexperience. Furyk's win at last week's Canadian Open hurtled he of the quirky swing up to No 2 in the rankings and marked him out as the world's form player, Woods notwithstanding, of course.
But there is form and there is form and when Karlsson went through the final 10 holes of the morning round in seven under, for an unofficial 64, he was five ahead and clear. Furyk did mount something of a charge in the afternoon, but Karlsson, all 6ft 5in of him, stood tall to take his most notable scalp to date.
"This is one of the biggest experiences in my golfing career," said the blooming 37-year-old, who will make his Ryder Cup debut in Co Kildare. "Over 18 holes you can sometimes get lucky but over 36, the best man usually comes through."
Casey was similarly chuffed after his humbling of the world No 6, although with his Walker Cup pedigree his match play quality has never been in doubt. The same applies to Montgomerie and, of course, to Donald who out-plodded a fellow artisan of attrition in Tim Clark. The world No 10 suffered few nerves in seeing off the South African with a two-hole win up the last, but by then there was so much more to play for. In normal circumstances Donald would have been playing Woods today, in a rematch of their USPGA final-round shoot-out a month ago. But these were definitely not normal circumstances.
For with Ernie Els, the West Course specialist, also going out to the ever-dangerous Argentinian Angel Cabrera and with Adam Scott struggling to justify his new tag of world No 5 in a tepid submission to Canada's Mike Weir, the draw now looks wide open. In fact, with Woods out of the picture it looks positively expansive.
Playing in just his second World Match Play and his first since being beaten in the 1998 final, Woods took the first hole after Micheel, the 2003 USPGA champion, took a nervous bogey. But from there the underdog never looked back, while his opponent failed to go forward.
The Wentworth greens were Tiger's handbrake. He claimed afterwards that it was the pace which foxed him, although the two-footer he failed even to hit the hole with on the ninth signalled that the lines were also a problem. Nevertheless, when Woods birdied the 18th to peg back the deficit to three down it seemed a minor blip, especially when he took the first two holes after the restart to close within one.
But Micheel stayed steady and Woods's putter stayed unsteady and as the advantage grew again and the holes ran out, the unthinkable came into focus for the crowd who had turned up in record numbers. Micheel, who was diagnosed with a testosterone deficiency two years and who now rubs in an ointment every day, was nerve personified and the end came without so much as a hint of the anticipated fight.
A brave, some might suggest foolish, TV man then questioned Woods as to whether he really cared about the event or not. The 30-year-old simply snarled his reply and went off to work out. At the same time he was having to figure out what he would do for the next three days until he is required in Ireland on Monday. He never entertained having the weekend off and neither did HSBC.
The sponsors have forked out millions for Woods to be here and although their entreaty that he has put the old competition back on the map regardless was commendable, it was uttered through gritted teeth.
Woosnam, meanwhile, was all beaming pearlies. "Yes, I'm sure Woosie is happy," Donald said, before adding a warning. "But Tiger is going to get a rest now."
Scores from Wentworth
World Match Play Championship: First round
M Campbell (US) bt S Khan (GB) 3 and 1
C Montgomerie (GB) bt D Howell (GB) 1 hole
P Casey (GB) bt R Goosen (SA) 6 and 4
M Weir (Can) bt A Scott (Aus) 3 and 2
R Karlsson (Swe) bt J Furyk (US) 4 and 3
A Cabrera (Arg) bt E Els (SA) 2 and 1
L Donald (GB) bt T Clark (SA) 2 holes
S Micheel (US) bt T Woods (US) 4 and 3.
Today's quarter-final tee-off times: 08.00 and 12.45: Campbell v Montgomerie; 08.15 and 13.00: Casey v Weir; 08.30 and 13.15: Karlsson v Cabrera; 08.45 and 13.30: Donald v Micheel.Reuse content