So much for his new swing having "clicked". The only thing clicking as far as Tiger Woods was concerned here yesterday was the gate behind him as he departed the Accenture Match Play. A first-round loss to Thomas Bjorn has compounded an utterly miserable start to his season.
It was typical Tiger. Not the Tiger of his major-filled domination, but the Tiger of his post-scandal tribulations. He seemed to have averted the disaster when birdieing the last with a gutsy 10-footer down the hill to take the match into sudden death. But then, on the first tee, he sliced it wildly into the desert brush. It was over. Bjorn, the world No 62, celebrated a famous win.
The resurgent Dane had some kind words for Woods as he commiserated with his friend. Yet the fallen icon, himself, was not nearly so kind on himself. He was asked where he is in the process, as he struggles with his new swing. "Pissed [off], that's where I am," said Woods, who supposedly had turned the corner in a practice session last week. "I had momentum going to the 19th and I blew it."
Woods has fallen at the first hurdle in this event only once before. And that was way back in 2002. That was also the last time the defending champion went out in the opening round. From last man standing to first man out; Ian Poulter's defence was as shortlived as it was disappointing. Indeed, the question was whether any champion had seen their mission to retain their title end before lunchtime on Wednesday.
But that's the Accenture Match Play for you and a first day of competition that is unrivalled in the sport for the complete absence of mercy. Thirty one other golfers were due to suffer the same "one-and-done" fate as Poulter in this enthralling shootout. Poulter will long wonder about his demise at the nerveless hands of Stewart Cink. He was two-up with four to play, but ended up blowing it on the 19th. His reaction echoed that of Woods. "Am I disappointed? I'm pissed, does that help?" he said. "I'm pissed for not doing my job today. I had my chances to shut him out and didn't."
Fortunately, there are other representatives bearing a British passport to take up the cause. In fact, other than Poulter, European golf started just as it left off last year. Indeed, the manner in which Martin Kaymer (7&6 over Seung-yul Noh), Luke Donald (6&5 over Charley Hoffman), Graeme McDowell (4&3 over Heath Slocum), Ross Fisher (4&3 over Robert Allenby), Rory McIlroy (4&2 over Jonathan Byrd) and finally, the world No 1, Lee Westwood (3&2 over Henrik Stenson) swaggered through the first round of this shootout did little to dampen hopes of another success. There were also wins for the two-time finalist Paul Casey – on the 19th against Richard Green – and Edoardo Molinari.
But, with respect to Bjorn, the star of this enthralling day was Matteo Manassero. The 17-year-old was not content with merely setting a record as the youngest player ever to compete in this even. No, the Italian had to dispatch Steve Stricker, the world No 8, as well. What a way for the old man to celebrate his 44th birthday – watching a teenager 27 years his junior birdie the 16th and 17th to win 2&1.
McIlroy was particularly pleased for his friend. "I'm almost happier for Matteo than I am for myself," said the 21-year-old. "I think the young guys are good enough to compete. I don't think Tiger and Phil [Mickelson] have got any... well, yeah, I mean I don't think Phil has got any worse." In golf at the moment there is simply no getting away from it.Reuse content