Cream rises in the slop

Match Play's top seeds advance in wet conditions

Posted: Friday, February 25, 2005


  Vijay Singh,of Fiji, pumps his fist after sinking a birdie putt on the 14th hole during his opening round victory over Shingo Katayama at the World Match Play Championship Thursday Feb. 24, 2005 in Carlsbad, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) CHRIS CARLSON

Vijay Singh,of Fiji, pumps his fist after sinking a birdie putt on the 14th hole during his opening round victory over Shingo Katayama at the World Match Play Championship Thursday Feb. 24, 2005 in Carlsbad, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)


CARLSBAD, Calif. — The Match Play Championship finally got under way on a golf course still underwater.

Two-time defending champion Tiger Woods won his 13th consecutive match, but not without wiping mud from his eyes after hitting out of the mucky fairways Thursday at the wetlands known as La Costa Resort. Nine of the top 10 seeds advanced to the second round.

Otherwise, it was a good walk soiled.

''Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting,'' Robert Allenby said after an easy victory over British Open champion Todd Hamilton. ''If this was a normal tournament, we wouldn't be playing. You can't even walk down the fairways.''

They didn't need marshals at La Costa, they needed lifeguards.

The fairways were so saturated that Davis Love III spent 10 minutes looking for a dry patch of grass.

The greens were soft and spongy, and players had to contend with heel prints — some swore the prints were so deep they cast a shadow late in the day.

Woods said he would have been better off putting on a waffle iron.

''At least a waffle iron is the same height,'' he said after coasting to a 4-and-3 victory over Nick Price. ''You can hit good putts and look great, and hit good putts and look like an absolute idiot.''

Tees were moved up to avoid landing areas that resembled swamps, the biggest change coming at the 467-yard ninth. The second-longest par 4 at La Costa was converted into the shortest par 3, playing at 162 yards because there wasn't a dry spot in the fairway.

''The course was really unplayable,'' Stuart Appleby said after beating Joakim Haeggman in one of only two matches that required extra holes. ''With stroke play, there was no chance of playing today. And match play was a mess.''

But that's why they played.

This fickle format is about beating another player, not the course, and everyone faced the same conditions brought on by heavy rains earlier in the week that delayed the start of the Accenture Match Play Championship by one day.

Some handled it better than others.

Vijay Singh, the No. 1 seed who has never advanced beyond the second round, built a quick lead against Shingo Katayama and sailed to a 4-and-3 victory.

''You just have to go with the flow,'' Singh said, presumably talking about the conditions in more ways than one. ''If you let that mentally disturb you, you're going to have a problem. It was a good result for me.''

Phil Mickelson made two birdies to start the second nine and led by as many as four holes before dispatching short-hitting Loren Roberts, 3 and 1. Retief Goosen went the distance with Stephen Leaney, winning 1 up.

Mike Weir of Canada, the No. 5 seed, was the only player among the top 10 who is headed home. Weir fought to the end, making a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to keep alive his chances, but Kirk Triplett rolled in a tricky 4-footer to advance to the second round.

Not many felt worse than Jim Furyk. He made six birdies and ran into one of the hottest players at La Costa, Ian Poulter of England, who made seven birdies for a 3-and-1 victory.

After two days of limited practice and play because of the rain, players gave the sparse gallery plenty of golf to watch under sunny skies. Sixteen matches went the distance, tying the record set last year at La Costa.

Only two of them required more than 18 holes, and the last one was perhaps the most dramatic of the day.

Nick O'Hern of Australia, playing in this event for the first time since he reached the quarterfinals four years ago, won three straight holes to take a 1-up advantage on Charles Howell III. Howell holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to force extra holes, and O'Hern answered with a 20-footer on No. 1 to win in 19 holes.

For all that work, O'Hern now gets to play Woods in the second round.

Singh will play 51-year-old Jay Haas, who defeated Jonathan Kaye; Mickelson faces Angel Cabrera, who had little trouble with Paul Casey; and Goosen next plays Fred Couples, who beat Peter Lonard on the final hole.

No one had an easier time than Mark Hensby of Australia, who made six birdies in 12 holes to bury Stephen Ames, 7 and 6, matching the largest margin of victory at this event, previously done five times.

Woods had few problems against three-time major winner Nick Price, winning four of the first eight holes and still missing his share of short putts.

There were not many gimmes, not on these greens.

''I was only the fifth group out, and I had Darren Clarke in front of me, and he's got his size 12s,'' Allenby said. ''His heel prints were probably 3 inches deep.''

Heel prints were a big issue on the par-3 16th, with Jerry Kelly and Scott Verplank all square. Kelly chipped some 15 feet past the hole, then made that for par. He thought about conceding Verplank's 3-foot par putt.

''Sure enough, there's this big ol' heel print in his line, and I just couldn't,'' Kelly said. ''It was 3 feet. That isn't a gimme, especially out here.''

Verplank missed, and Kelly went on to a 1-up victory.

The biggest issue was the squishy fairways, which kept the ball from rolling and made the course longer. But big hitters lost their advantage with so many tee boxes moved forward — and a couple of them moved slightly back, all to bring the dry sections of the course into play.

''For what it is out here, Lake La Costa did pretty good,'' Kelly said.

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