Els loses in first round of Match Play tourney

Easy out

Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2003

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Ernie Els stood off to the side of the 18th green, proud of his late rally and clutch bunker shot that figured to be good enough to move one match closer to a dream final against Tiger Woods.

It all fell apart so quickly.

Woods held up his end of the bargain Wednesday in the Match Play Championship, beating Carl Pettersson with flawless golf over 17 holes.

For the Big Easy, it was another shocking finish at La Costa.

Phil Tataurangi holed a 25-foot birdie putt to force extra holes, a putt so unlikely that Els couldn't help but laugh. There was nothing to smile about, however, when he knocked Els out of the tournament, winning with a birdie on the 20th hole.

''So be it,'' Els shrugged. ''I'm disappointed, but this is what happens with 18 holes of match play. I knew he was going to make that putt.''

The most fickle tournament in golf lived up to its reputation in a wild and wacky first round, which featured the longest match in tournament history, a bizarre penalty and a stunning loss by Els, the hottest player in the world.

At least Woods stuck around, atoning for his first-round loss last year. He took the lead for good on the 13th hole, and seized control by holing a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 16 after Pettersson had chipped in for birdie.

Six of the top 10 seeds managed to advance to the second round -- Phil Mickelson, David Toms, Davis Love III, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk.

Love overcame the biggest gaffe. Waiting to hit his third shot from a greenside bunker, his club slipped out of his hand and touched the sand -- loss of hole. He still was 3 up and had no trouble beating Paul Casey.

Els wasn't the only one who left La Costa in a state of shock.

Sergio Garcia was 3 up with six holes to play until losing the next five holes to defending champion Kevin Sutherland. Charles Howell III, who lost in a playoff at Riviera last week, failed to make a birdie and lost 1-up to Niclas Fasth.

Mike Weir earned his keep. He went 26 holes before beating Loren Roberts, the longest match in the five-year history of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

No one cared how they played, just as long as they get to come back.

''If you don't go out there and play well right away, you'll be going home,'' Woods said. ''I know that, and everyone else knows that.''

Some found out the hard way.

Els finally took the lead against Tataurangi with a par on the 17th to go 1 up. He hit a great bunker shot to within inches for par on the 18th, and stood off to the side as Tataurangi lined up his putt.

It was good all the way, and the Kiwi pumped his fist as it fell.

''I've got to go home and iron another shirt for tomorrow,'' Tataurangi said. ''I hadn't planned on playing tomorrow.''

On the first playoff hole, Tataurangi hit into the bunker and blasted out to 5 feet, but holed that one for par. With new life, he hit his tee shot on the par-3 11th to 2 feet, and Els conceded even before he stepped into the bunker for a do-or-die shot.

It never came close.

''I guess I'm continuing my love affair with this golf course,'' Els said. ''Don't be surprised if I don't come back next year.''

Garcia felt just as bad.

He was cruising toward a victory until Sutherland won the final five holes they played.

''It seemed like he was getting a little frustrated,'' Sutherland said.

The crushing blow came on the par-3 16th.

Sutherland hit into the bunker, and Garcia found the green about 45 feet away, poised to take the lead or at least stop the bleeding. Instead, the defending champion got up-and-down for par, and Garcia three-putted for bogey to fall 1 down.

Sutherland closed him out with a 6-iron into 5 feet for another birdie, his fifth consecutive hole and his seventh consecutive victory in match play.

''It seems like about four holes ago, I was thinking about getting an early flight out of here,'' Sutherland said.

That's when he gave himself a pep talk.

A year ago, Sutherland was 2 down on the 17th tee to David Duval, birdied the next two holes and won on the 20th hole.

''When I got it to 2 down with four holes to play, I was thinking that I was 2 down with two to play last year and won, and there's no reason why I can't come back this time,'' Sutherland said.

Duval tried a comeback of his own against Justin Rose.

Two down with three holes to play, Duval birdied the 16th and 17th to square the match and appeared to be in control on the first extra hole, No. 1.

Rose's drive found the bunker, blocked by a steep lip and a thick pine tree. He chipped out to the fairway and hit his third shot into 12 feet, making bogey. From the right rough, Duval hit his second shot to 50 feet, and hit a poor putt that stopped 6 feet short.

He missed, giving Rose new life.

The young Englishman took advantage with an 8-foot birdie to win.

It was the second straight year Duval had lost in 20 holes in the opening round, leading to a long walk back to the clubhouse to clean out his locker.

''It doesn't matter how it happened. I lost,'' Duval said.

Thirty-one other guys could relate.

''I've got nothing to say,'' Chris DiMarco said as he bolted from La Costa after losing to Toshi Izawa of Japan, 2 and 1.

None of that matters in match play, where anything can happen over 18 holes and just about everything does.

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