Tiger Woods is out of the WGC-Accenture Match Play already, beaten on the first extra hole by Dane Thomas Bjorn in today’s opening round.
With the longest barren spell of his career now stretching to 18 events, Woods joined defending champion Ian Poulter in crashing out of the tournament in sudden death.
Despite some shocking shots – he hit almost into the middle of the lake on the short third – Woods led by one with six to play, but Bjorn then birdied the 13th and 15th.
The former world number one, whose last victory was 15 months ago in Australia, levelled with a nine-foot birdie putt on the last, but could not recover from a wild drive when they went into overtime.
So Bjorn, only 134th on the rankings before he won the Qatar Masters earlier this month, claimed the scalp of the player whose only previous first round loss was nine years ago to Australian Peter O’Malley.
“He’s not playing his absolute best, but there were a lot of good swings there,” said Bjorn. “He’s taking strides. There’s a way back for him and he’ll get there.”
Poulter lost to 2009 Open champion Stewart Cink – and last year’s runner-up Paul Casey breathed a huge sigh of relief that he did not exit as well.
Twelfth seed Poulter was two up with six to go, while sixth seed Casey, who has reached the last two finals in the event, survived only when Australian left-hander Richard Green three-putted the 19th.
Poulter said: “I really should have shut the match out, to be honest with you.
“Every credit to him. He holed putts at the right time and that’s what you have to do in this format.
“He putted me off the golf course. I missed my chances and therefore I have been punished.”
Casey commented: “I just never got it going. I didn’t birdie any par five – it really was pretty poor. I made a real botch of the 17th, but Richard kind of handed it to me on the 19th.”
Casey joined fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ross Fisher and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in progressing, while Justin Rose was four up after 10 on Zach Johnson in the final game.
Surprised to be sent out in the very first match just before 8am – 30 minutes later than planned because of frost – Poulter’s interest in the event had ended before Woods and top seed Westwood had even played a hole.
Donald was the first player into the last 32, thrashing American Charley Hoffman by a 6&5 margin, and he will next play Ryder Cup team-mate Edoardo Molinari.
Donald’s victory threatened to be an even more convincing when he took seven of the first 10 holes.
“Charley was not on his A-game,” he said. “I was probably three or four under and I’ll take the win, but it was not too hard fortunately.”
Molinari came from two down after six to beat Scot Martin Laird 3&2, but that was not the biggest turnaround. Ernie Els lost the first three holes to American Jeff Overton, but won on the 19th.
There is another all-European Ryder Cup clash in the second round, Celtic Manor hero McDowell against Fisher, while Westwood, who overcame Henrik Stenson, next plays American Nick Watney – the player who beat him last year.
Both won 4&3, McDowell against American Heath Slocum and Fisher against Australian Robert Allenby.
“It was reasonably straightforward,” stated US Open champion McDowell, the fifth seed. “Heath didn’t have his best day and for a change I played nicely and got the job done.” It was only his second win in six games at the tournament.
Fisher, in contrast, was a semi-finalist two years ago and later that season won golf’s other World Match Play tournament in Spain.
“It wasn’t flawless, awesome golf, but in match play you don’t have to play perfectly and Robert was a little bit off,” he said.
McIlroy chipped in for eagle at the 393-yard fourth and went on to beat American Jonathan Byrd 4&2, all the more satisfying because the Golf Channel had tipped him to lose.
“It obviously gives you a little extra to go out and prove them wrong,” said the 21-year-old. “I felt if I played my game I would be tough to beat.”
McIlroy has another American, Ben Crane, in the second round.
After heading for an early finish Rose suddenly lost four holes in a row and so was back on level terms with Johnson with four to play.
But the Englishman responded with birdies at the 15th and 17th to eventually prevail 2 and 1 and set up a meeting with Martin Kaymer.