February 22, 2012

Tiger grinds out first-round win at Dove Mountain

Tiger Woods poured in a clutch eight-foot par putt on the 18th hole Wednesday to beat Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño of Spain, 1 up, in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz.

The 36-year-old Woods, a three-time winner of the event, improved his record to 33-8 in 12 appearances. He will oppose Nick Watney in the second round on Thursday.

“Neither one of us had our best stuff,” Woods said. “I’m very fortunate to move on.”

Woods, ranked 20th in the world, lost the first two holes on birdies by the 31-year-old Fernández-Castaño, who is ranked 48th in the world and is a five-time winner on the European Tour. But Woods battled back to win the par-4 fifth hole with a par, and drilled a 50-foot birdie putt at the par-4 seventh to even the match.

At the 576-yard, par-5 eighth, Woods hit a beautiful second shot just over the back of the green, then chipped to four feet short of the cup and made the birdie putt to take his first lead of the match. He could have extended his advantage to 2 up at the 448-yard, par-4 ninth, but Woods three-putted from 83 feet and halved the hole with a bogey.

“There were huge momentum swings out there,” he said.

Both players hit poor drives right and into the desert at the 493-yard, par-4 10th hole. Fernández-Castaño eventually won the hole with a bogey and squared the match, with Woods missing a seven-foot bogey putt.

At the par-5 11th, Woods pulled his second shot into the desert on the right and was unable to save par with another seven-foot putt.

Fernández-Castaño won the hole with a par to take a 1-up lead.

Woods made a seven-foot par save at the 205-yard, par-3 12th hole and was fortunate to halve the hole when Fernández-Castaño two-putted for a par. Woods dodged another bullet at the par-5 13th when he failed to get up and down in two from just right of the green, and his opponent rimmed the right side of the cup with a seven-foot birdie attempt.

The par-4 14th hole was also halved with pars, as Woods this time got up and down from behind the green. He evened the match at the 323-yard, par-4 15th, where he knocked a driver on the green, 20 feet beyond the cup, and two-putted for a birdie. Again, Fernández-Castaño narrowly missed his birdie try to halve the hole, and the match was all square.

Woods regained the lead at the 198-yard, par-3 16th hole. His drive finished pin-high, 31 feet left of the hole, but Fernández-Castaño missed the green left. The Spaniard hit a nice pitch to within six feet of the cup, but lost the hole when he failed to convert after Woods two-putted for a par.

Woods had a chance to end the match at the 482-yard, par-4 17th, but ran his 12-foot birdie attempt four feet past the hole. After a nice two-putt par from long range by Fernández-Castaño, Woods polished off his par putt to maintain his 1-up cushion.

There was more drama at the 480-yard, par-4 18th hole. Both players found the fairway off the tee, but Fernández-Castaño applied pressure by knocking his second shot 10 feet past the cup. Woods had 175 yards to the pin, but his 8-iron carried long into a right, greenside bunker, leaving a slick, big-breaking downhill shot to the front pin.

Aiming well right of the hole, Woods hit a great bunker shot that just cleared the sand and landed on the fringe before releasing eight feet past the cup — a commendable effort given the difficulty of the play and the circumstances. Fernández-Castaño just missed his match-tying birdie attempt, and Woods made him pay.

“That was pretty pure,” he said of his winning putt.