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Shocker - Both McIlroy & Woods Eliminated in Match Play Championship
In a stunning development, the No. 1 and 2 players in the world and the overall top seeds in the tournament, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, were eliminated during the weather-delayed first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The $8.75 million PGA Tour event is being played at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain near Tucson, Ariz.
Following a snow-caused suspension of the first round Wednesday and a four-and-a-half-hour delay Thursday morning, play finally got started.
McIlroy and Woods probably would have preferred it didn't.
As dark descended in the desert Southwest, McIlroy fell 1-up to his good friend and long-time rival, Shane Lowry. McIlroy is an Ulsterman and the 25-year-old Lowry an Irishman. McIlroy almost made a tying birdie from a greenside bunker on the par-4 18th hole, but the ball stopped just short of the cup. Lowry then two-putted for par and the win.
McIlroy, who recently made a much-ballyhooed - and lucrative switch - to Nike clubs, still hasn't mastered his new equipment. In his previous outing a month ago, he missed the cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
The obviously disappointed 23-year-old said at greenside, "We both gave each other a few holes. I drove the ball real well but couldn't take advantage.
"If I could have just hit my irons better it would have been a different match," added McIlroy, the third No. 1 overall seed in the past four years to head home after the first round.
Lowry, who won the European Tour's 2009 Irish Open as an amateur, held serve throughout the day against his more heralded opponent, staying all-square through 11 holes. After taking a 1-up advantage with a birdie on the par-2 12th, he eagled the next and held on from there. Two clutch chip-ins down the stretch helped greatly.
"Obviously it was always going to be a tough match for me against Rory today, but playing against the world No. 1, I'm feeling quite good now, but it's important not to get too high now because it's only the first round, and I've got another match tomorrow and really looking forward to playing that," Lowry told PGATour.com.
Lowry will face the winner of the Rickie Fowler-Carl Pettersson match, which, due to darkness caused by the morning delay, will be completed Friday morning with the Swede 1-up through 17.
Woods and 16th seed Charles Howell III waged a tight duel that saw neither carding a bogey all day. But Howell went 1-up on the second hole and never relinquished the lead, winning 2 and 1 under a blackening sky. The players were given the option at the 16th hole to resume the match Friday morning, but decided to press on.
Howell said at greenside that he'd never beaten Woods before in previous games at their club in Florida. "Of all the days we've played at Isleworth, I don't think I've ever beaten him."
He later described his mindset before the round to PGATour.com: "I knew I had to play my best to have a chance out there," said Howell, who lost a match to Woods in the 1996 U.S. Amateur. "He's Tiger Woods and I was just happy to hang in there."
Woods said at greenside, "We both played well. I didn't really miss a shot today. We didn't have any bogeys." As for not taking the offer to start over in the morning, Woods answered, "I was playing well . . . I thought I could get a couple birdies coming in."
The losses by McIlroy and Woods represent the first time since 2002 when the top two seeds were eliminated in the first round.
Howell will face either Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano or Italy's Francesco Molinari. Unlike Woods and Howell, the two opted to head back to the clubhouse and not play in the Arizona gloom. They'll start over in the morning with the match all-square through 15.
Back to the Bobby Jones bracket - where McIlroy was the top seed, No. 13 Alexander Noren carded five birdies to vanquish No. 4 Dustin Johnson 6 and 4. The Swede will face Graeme McDowell, who beat Padraig Harrington 2 and 1. England's Chris Wood fell 2 and 1 to reigning Masters' champion Bubba Watson 2 and 1. In the second round Watson will face Jim Furyk, who got past fellow American Ryan Moore 4 and 2.
"We both played better this afternoon," Watson told PGATour.com of his match, which started Wednesday. "Yesterday with the cold weather we all struggled a little bit. We both made birdies, and we just kept tying, and luckily I made some birdies down the stretch."
Furyk knows he's got his hands full with the long-hitting lefty from Bagdad, Fla. "Bubba is a very talented player, obviously a lot of power versus me who doesn't, so we have a little bit different styles of game, but he's able to maneuver the ball a lot, hit a lot of creative shots and is very good around the greens," Furyk told PGATour.com.
Also in the Jones bracket and in another shocker, 14th-seeded Russell Henley, a 23-year-old Georgian and Tour rookie, upset third seed Charl Schwartzel - who's been playing some of the best golf in the world - 1-up. Next up for Henley, who won his Tour debut in this year's Sony Open, will be Aussie Jason Day, who blitzed Zach Johnson 6 and 5 off seven birdies.
In the Ben Hogan bracket, No. 1 Louis Oosthuizen edged Richie Ramsay 2 and 1. The South African will face Robert Garrigus, who beat Branden Grace 4 and 3. Marcus Fraser of Australia upended No. 4 Keegan Bradley 1-up and will face Fredrik Jacobson of Sweden, who beat Ernie Els by the same score.
"I knew it was going to be obviously a tough match," Fraser told PGATour.com. "Keegan is a major winner and Ryder Cup player, so he's used to match play. Down the stretch he's probably one of the best in the game.
"It wasn't the prettiest match . . . But as I said before, it's match play, you can play really well and get rolled or you can play average and hang in there," Fraser added of a format that can ruin the chances of even the world's best. "And that's what I did today, hung in there and made a nice putt on 17, which really helped . . . I just backed myself. That was the difference."
No. 2 seed Justin Rose moved on in the Hogan bracket by beating K.J. Choi 2 and 1. Next up for the Englishman is powerful Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, who took out Bill Haas 5 and 4. Also in the Hogan bracket of 16, third-seeded Sergio Garcia of Spain took 20 holes to edge Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee. Garcia will next play Matt Kuchar, who got past Hiroyuki Fujita 3 and 2.
In the Gary Player group, Webb Simpson had no problems with David Lynn, beating the 39-year-old Englishman 5 and 4. On Friday the 2012 U.S. Open champion will play Peter Hanson, who squeaked by Thomas Bjorn 3 and 2.
In another upset, Lee Westwood was topped by 15 seed Rafael Cabrera-Bello in 19 holes. The 28-year-old Spaniard will now face Martin Kaymer, who wiggled by South African George Coetzee 2 and 1. Another third seed, Jason Dufner, is also heading home after losing 1-up to Richard Sterne. On Friday, Sterne, who won the Joburg Open 11 days ago, will face defending champion Hunter Mahan, who had no problems beating Italian teenager Matteo Manassero 5 and 4.
Cabrera-Bello, playing in his second Match Play Championship, knows he has an uphill battle but managed to get by the highly regarded Westwood, who lost in the semifinals last year to Mahan. "Obviously the odds were in (Westwood's) favor," Cabrera Bello told PGATour.com "But in match play, anything can happen. I just tried my best and I was fortunate enough to win."
In the Sam Snead group, No. 1 seed Luke Donald hung tough to beat Germany's Marcel Siem 1-up. The Englishman will face Scott Piercy, who bested Paul Lawrie 4 and 3.
Steve Stricker was in fine form in his return since the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, beating Henrik Stenson 5 and 4. On Friday, Stricker will face fellow Yank Nick Watney, who beat David Toms by the same score.
"Henrik didn't play his best, and I played steady," Stricker told PGATour.com. "I didn't make really too many mistakes, didn't make a lot of birdies either, but just didn't make too many mistakes."
Tim Clark, a 15th seed, surprised No. 2 Adam Scott 2 and 1. The diminutive South African will next face Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen, who beat Welshman Jamie Donaldson 3 and 2. In the lower part of the Snead bracket, England's Ian Poulter moves on after getting past Scotsman Stephen Gallacher 2 and 1, and will play Bo Van Pelt, who vanquished Aussie John Senden 6 and 5.
For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/accenture-match-play-championship/leaderboard.html.