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Woods seeks perfect match

He has to win six in a row at new Match Play Championship site to stretch his PGA Tour streak to eight. First up is J.J. Henry.

February 21, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

MARANA, ARIZ. — He has been missing from the PGA Tour for almost a month, since he won at Torrey Pines in the only event he has entered this year. But Tiger Woods has found his way out here among the cactus, sand, sagebrush and $8 million in prize money, ready to put his winning streak on the line today against J.J. Henry.

It's seven straight PGA Tour victories and counting for Woods.

He says he's not really counting and not spending a lot of time thinking about it either.

"Not much at all," he said. "Just trying to think about getting past J.J. I've just got to get past one guy at a time."

Woods said he isn't going to peek ahead and see whom he would meet in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, but it's Robert Allenby or Tim Clark. That wouldn't be an easy road to travel for anyone, but then just getting to the Gallery course at Dove Mountain is no simple task.

It's close to a 45-minute drive from Tucson, half of it on a two-lane road, and it's an unusual sight. The holes are laid out end to end, following sort of a circle. No holes are side by side, so the Gallery is more like 18 separate courses surrounded by desert, homes and condos.

"It's a little different," Woods said.

As for Tiger, nothing has changed since he closed with a 66 in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines and beat Charles Howell III by two shots. That was the seventh in Woods' PGA Tour victory streak, the longest in 62 years, since Byron Nelson won 11 in a row in 1945.

Nelson won two match-play events in his streak.

Woods, the top-seeded player in the field, is 23-5 in this tournament, winning it in 2003 and 2004. But he is also the only top-seeded player to lose in the first round -- to Peter O'Malley in 2002.

Winning is much more difficult in match play than in stroke play, Woods said.

"This has always been one of the tougher events to win just because of the nature of the format," Woods said. "Match play, anything can happen, it's unpredictable and sometimes it takes a great round to advance, sometimes you can shoot over par and advance. We'll see.

"All I know is you just have to go out there and beat one guy at a time. You don't have to beat a whole field, just six guys in order to win a championship.

"I think it's always tougher to continue at match play because all it takes is one hot guy. In stroke play, it takes four consistent, solid rounds, and you can have an off day and still win a tournament.

"But here, you have your off day and you could be going home pretty early. Or you could have a wonderful round of golf and still be going home."

Woods said he was 13 when he played his first match-play event, the Southern California Junior Match Play at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, losing in the quarterfinals to James Mohan. He said he shot 69 and lost.

"I just came home and told Dad, 'I don't understand. I shot a better score than he did, but he won the match. That doesn't seem right to me.' He explained it to me. That was the first time I had ever experienced anything like that before."

Henry, a teammate of Woods on last year's Ryder Cup team, said he's anxious and excited.

"For me, personally, I think it's a win-win," he said. "I got a chance to play against the best player in the world. Of course, we all know he's headed for eight in a row here, or trying to. Heck, he's got to go through six matches, and I happen to be one of them."

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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