Holmes could provide tough matchup for Woods

2/19/2008 - Golf

MARANA, Ariz. -- J.B. Holmes is a huge underdog. Then again, how much of an underdog can he be in an 18-hole match-play event, even against Tiger Woods?

Holmes knows nobody expects him to take down the No. 1-ranked player in the opening round of the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday.

But match play has a way of closing any gap.

"It is a little bit more forgiving," said Holmes, 25, who is making his first appearance in the World Golf Championship event at the Gallery Golf Club. "You can go down a couple of holes and still do well in the end."

Holmes has a couple of things going for him. He is coming off a victory three weeks ago at the FBR Open, just up the road in Scottsdale. It was his second career win, both coming at the same tournament.

In that event, he took down the game's No. 2 player, Phil Mickelson, in a sudden-death playoff. Mickelson had rallied with a final-round 67 to take the lead, but Holmes -- a long-bomber who ranked second on the PGA Tour in driving distance last year -- birdied the 18th hole to tie and again in the playoff to win.

And this is a tournament filled with upsets. Last year, 11 lower-seeded players won on the first day, out of 32 matches. Woods has won twice, but he also lost in the first round to unheralded Peter O'Malley in 2002. Last year, he lost in the third round to Nick O'Hern.

"You could be playing well and still go home," Woods said. "It's not about the marathon; it's not about the long race of four rounds to position yourself for winning a golf tournament. It's a sprint. You've got to get it done in 18 holes. If you get two, three behind in this format with only 18 holes, generally the guys lose. But in stroke play, if you get off to a slow start you can still win a golf tournament."

And unlike most previous opponents of Tiger, Holmes is unlikely to be hitting first from the fairway. He can hit it as far as -- or even farther than -- Woods, which can often be an advantage in match play.

"I think a lot of the advantage [Woods] has over a lot of people is he's able to hit it 30, 40 yards past them," Holmes said. "And he has one of the best short games in the world. You give that guy a wedge in his hand, if they hit a 7-iron, they feel like they go right at it and he forces them to make mistakes. Hopefully, I won't be 40 [yards] behind him. Hopefully, I'll be up around his shots."

Holmes was ranked outside of the top 100 in the world before his victory at the FBR Open. He moved up to 65th before the cutoff for this tournament, but got the last spot in the 64-man field when Brett Wetterich withdrew with a shoulder injury.

Although this is his first appearance in this tournament, Holmes has experience in the format, having won two matches at the 2005 Walker Cup as an amateur, as well as the U.S. Amateur and the Palmer Cup.

He has never played with Woods.

"I'm just excited to be able to go out and play and see what I can do," Holmes said. "I've never got to see him up close and watch him lay. I get to see and maybe compare a little bit and see what I need to improve on."

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.