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Woods keeps the pressure on

He pulls away on the back nine for a 3-and-2 victory over Henry. Els and Scott make quick exits, and Mickelson gets a driving lesson.

February 22, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

MARANA, ARIZ. — Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are safe, at least for another day, but Ernie Els said goodbye to the sand and cactus and the Accenture Match Play Championship with another first-round loss.

It's one down and five to go for Woods, who had little trouble dispatching J.J. Henry, 3 and 2, at the Gallery Golf Club on Wednesday. Woods needs to win five more matches to extend his PGA Tour winning streak to eight in a row.

Woods had six birdies, lost one hole with a bogey and said he was troubled most by a swirling wind and difficult pin placements on the 7,466-yard course laid out in the foothills.

"I played all right," said Woods, who made a clutch par putt on the second hole. "Overall, I felt like I was consistent enough to put pressure on him most of the day."

Woods meets 33rd-ranked Tim Clark in the second round today. Clark defeated Robert Allenby, 2 and 1.

Meanwhile, Els' schedule cleared up unexpectedly. He became a first-round loser for the fourth time in this match-play event and the third time in a row. Els, ranked fifth, lost to 62nd-ranked Bradley Dredge of Wales, 4 and 2, and left the premises without comment.

Fourth-ranked Adam Scott was the highest-ranked player to lose, being upset by Shaun Micheel in 21 holes.

Mickelson managed only two birdies and wasn't that pleased with the pin positions, but he still made it past fellow left-hander Richard Green, 1-up.

Mickelson may have made the biggest news when he said he spent time on the driving range Tuesday with Butch Harmon. Mickelson hit his driver as Harmon watched.

The fact that Harmon is Woods' former coach and that he worked on Mickelson's driving was an irony that Mickelson didn't really want to discuss.

Mickelson missed the 18th fairway twice in Sunday's final round at Riviera -- the 72nd hole and the first playoff hole -- when Charles Howell III wound up winning the Nissan Open. Mickelson's longtime swing coach is Rick Smith.

Mickelson refused to say whether seeing Harmon was a one-day experiment or the beginning of a relationship.

"I'm not going to go there," he said. "We've been friends for a number of years and I think the world of him."

Otherwise, there wasn't a great deal of drama on opening day in the $8-million event. Padraig Harrington probably produced the most in his 19-hole victory over Lee Westwood. Harrington was 2-down with six holes to go, missed a 10-footer to win at the 18th, and then rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt at No. 1 to edge Westwood.

Sergio Garcia had the same close encounter, defeating Darren Clarke in 19 holes, and moving on to face Howell in today's second round.

Second-ranked Jim Furyk made it through to the second round with a 2-and-1 victory over Brett Quigley.

Woods was clinging to a 1-up lead over Henry, his Ryder Cup teammate, through 11 holes. But Woods started to pull away at the 344-yard, par-four 12th. He hit a 310-yard drive, and chipped to two feet for a birdie to go 2-up.

At the 192-yard 14th, Woods hit an eight-iron and stopped the ball about a foot from the flagstick. Henry missed his 15-foot birdie putt and conceded the birdie putt to Woods, whose 3-up lead held up.

Afterward, Woods said he and Henry were surprised that the course setup was so difficult.

"These pins are really tough," Woods said. "A couple of times we felt like if you hit a putt a little too hard, you'd putt it right off the green."

Mickelson said there were as many as six greens he was worried about keeping the ball from rolling off.

"All l'm saying is you can't play as aggressive," he said. "You just try to hit the middle of the green and make a putt. It's fair, though, because everybody has to do it."


The final round of the Nissan Open had a preliminary national household rating of 3.4 on CBS, up 31% over last year's 2.6 on ABC. The telecast peaked at 5.4 during Howell's three-hole playoff victory over Mickelson, between 4 p.m. and 4:27 p.m.

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