Commentary

Woods scores another Tiger-like come-from-behind win at Match Play

Updated: February 22, 2008, 12:10 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

MARANA, Ariz. -- Somewhere, Trip Kuehne and Steve Scott are perhaps reliving their own battles with Tiger Woods, reminded again on Wednesday just how tough it is to put away the game's best player.

J.B. Holmes now knows the feeling, too.

Three holes up with five to play in the opening round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, Holmes witnessed the kind of flurry that first made Woods famous more than a decade ago at the U.S. Amateur.

Woods made three straight birdies to tie the match, then rolled in a long eagle putt at the 17th hole to take the lead. And when Holmes missed his birdie putt at the 18th hole to tie, Woods had somehow eked out a 1-up victory -- much to the relief of PGA Tour officials, sponsors and television executives, none of whom wanted to see the star attraction leave Arizona early.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP Photo/Matt YorkWoods played holes 14 through 17 in 5-under-par.

"I just kept saying I could win in regulation," said Woods, who had a back-nine score of 6-under-par 30 despite a bogey. "That's what I've always done, even if I'm 2-down with three to go or 3-down with five to go or whatever it may be.

"I've been in that situation a lot of times. I always say I can win in regulation. It doesn't mean that you do, but you have to believe that you can. And today was one of those lucky times where everything just happened to turn my way at the right time."

Woods, who has won four straight official events worldwide, survived on a day that was again marked by "upsets." He first made a name for himself nationally by pulling off these kinds of match play comebacks at the U.S. Amateur. In 1994, at the TPC-Sawgrass, he trailed Kuehne by six holes in the 36-hole match and rallied to win 1-up. Two years later at Pumpkin Ridge, he won his third straight Amateur when he came from 5-down against Steve Scott. In that match, he was 2-down with three to play and won in 38 holes.

"I heard it was just like how he used to win the U.S. Amateur," said Arron Oberholser, who defeated Mike Weir, 3 and 1, and will be Woods' next opponent. "He's been doing that stuff since he was 14 years old."

Woods struggled for most of the day. He hit his first tee shot out of bounds, and made bogeys at the ninth and 13th holes to allow Holmes to win with pars.

The comeback began at the 14th hole, where Woods drained a 14-footer to pull within two. He made another birdie at the 15th, although it didn't matter because Holmes had already bogeyed the hole by three-putting, his lone mistake on the back side. Then Woods made a 22-footer for another birdie at the 16th to tie, before rolling in the 36-foot eagle putt at the 17th that gave him his first lead of the day.

"You're playing the best player in the world," said Holmes, who three weeks ago got his second PGA Tour victory when he defeated Phil Mickelson in a sudden-death playoff at the FBR Open. "I got 3-up with four or five to play and I was like, 'Let's not do anything stupid here. Make him make birdies and make him beat you if he's going to do it.' And he did. He started making a ton of putts. There's not much you can do when he played 5- or 6-under in the last four or five holes. What do you do?"

One thing he could have done was make an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th. Woods had missed the green short, and chipped up for a conceded par. Holmes, after a 347-yard drive, had just 90 yards to the pin and wedged close for a tying birdie, but the putt broke off to the left.

"I'm a little frustrated," Holmes said. "I really thought I'd made that putt right there. And I hit a good putt, we just misread it. & You have to give it up to him. He struggled a little bit early in the round, then made every putt he looked at when he needed to. That's why he's the best."

And now he faces another player who's considered a huge underdog. Oberholser is playing for the first time this year after recovering from a shoulder injury. His victory over Weir was his first official round of 2008.

Oberholser, who like Woods grew up in California, has rarely played with the world's No. 1 golfer. They have never been paired in a PGA Tour event, and Oberholser had to think long and hard about the last time they were in the same group -- it was at a college tournament in 1996, when Woods was a sophomore at Stanford and Oberholser a junior at San Jose State.

"The guy has proven that he is so much better than the rest of us when he's on -- including the next best player in the world," Oberholser said. "For a guy like myself, even though I'm the 33rd-ranked player in the world, the gap between me and him seems so big, because he's so much more experienced than I am in just about every facet of the game. We're the same age, but golfwise he's about 60, mentally. He's seen it all, done it all at a very young age. And it's helped him progress further and faster than his peers."

And yet it still took a miracle finish for him to take care of Holmes.

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

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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