A match for Tiger

Updated: February 21, 2007, 2:04 PM ET
By Tim Rosaforte | GolfDigest.com

MARANA, Ariz. -- J.J. Henry wasn't going to pull a Stephen Ames. He wasn't going to give Tiger Woods any morsel of motivation to chew on and spit out the way Ames did in the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship last year at La Costa. Other than saying, "I'm fired up," and giving it the proverbial, "I've got nothing to lose," Henry was going to the airport in Los Angeles quietly. Asked what it would be like to snap Woods' seven-tournament PGA Tour win streak, Henry said, "I'm not going there."

Being in the team room at the K Club, competing against Tiger before last year's Ryder Cup, Henry knows the rules of how to hang. You don't suck up to Tiger. You treat him with respect, but the best way to get his respect is to give him a game. Apparently Henry did that in Ireland.

"I didn't lose any money to him," Henry said.

J.J. Henry
AP PhotoHenry will face Woods in the first round on Wednesday.
To review, what Ames said before the 2006 Accenture would hardly constitute as trash-talking. In a pre-tournament interview, Ames suggested Woods was beatable, "from where he's driving it from." If Tiger has a competitive hot button, it's suggesting that he's got a weak spot with the driver. Plus, it was the wisecracking Ames, whose humor sometimes clangs and who is not on Woods' A-list of friends and tour players who can bust his chops. Tiger fed off it, won the first six holes, shot 29 on the front, thumped Ames 9 and 8, and never cracked a smile.

"Yes," said Woods, when asked if he was aware of Ames' comments.

"Yes," said Woods, when asked if he was motivated by Ames' comments.

"9 and 8," Woods said, when asked of his reaction to Ames' comments.

Ames became known as "9 and 8" until he won the Players Championship five weeks later. Woods ended up losing two matches later to Chad Campbell, who quietly hit shots, made some bombs and shook Tiger's hand when it was over. And therein lies to key to beating Woods in match play.

"If you want to have a chance of beating him," Campbell said Tuesday, "you don't want to say the wrong thing beforehand."

Woods is the only repeat winner of the Accenture, and holds the record for most matches won (23), but he's been beatable -- especially early in the competition. Peter O'Malley took him out in the first round in 2002, when Woods didn't make a birdie until the 16th hole. Going for a three-peat in 2005, Tiger got tripped up by Nick O'Hern's long putter, snapping a 13-match win streak. (That was the year Woods suggested Tucson as an alternative for the rainy season at what was being called Lake La Costa.)

If you're going to get Woods in match play, it's best to get him early, before he gets his rhythm and momentum. That's what Brett Quigley was thinking as he spent a week as the 64th seed, pumping himself up, thinking that at a new venue (The Gallery at Dove Mountain), Woods wouldn't have as much of an advantage as he did at La Costa.

But on Sunday afternoon there was a shake-up in the brackets and Quigley was off the hook. Charl Schwartzel decided to stay in South Africa, hoping to lock down an unprecedented third-straight Sunshine Tour Order of Merit title. That moved Quigley up to play Jim Furyk and Henry in to play Tiger.

Besides their age, and the Ryder Cup, Henry and Woods don't have much in common. Henry has won once. Woods has won 55 times. But you could tell, listening to Woods, that he's got time for J.J. "I tell you what, he had a lot of guts coming down 18," Tiger said on Tuesday. "I remember that birdie putt over there on the back right pin. He hit the ball beautifully during that Ryder Cup and I thought he handled himself extremely well, given that was his first time ever in a Ryder Cup and it was over in Europe. The times he went out and played, he played great."

The bracket news arrived as Henry was walking after his tee ball on the 17th hole Sunday at Riviera. Mark Russell, the tour official, was in a cart, on his cell phone to the tournament office, when Henry asked if there was any news.

If there was a WD, it was expected to come from Arron Oberholser, who has not played since pulling out of the Mercedes-Benz Championship after one round with a bulging disk in his back. Russell relayed the news about Schwartzel. Henry was so pumped, he hit 3-wood pin high and made birdie to shoot 68.

"I was going to Tucson anyway, but I was going to be on the outside looking in," Henry said. "This gives me a new lease on life."

Riding in the car was Shaun Micheel. In last year's HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, Micheel snuck up on Woods and administered the worst match-play defeat in Tiger's career. Micheel is like Campbell, Jeff Maggert, Billy Mayfair (who beat Tiger in the Nissan Open at Valencia and Bob May (who nearly beat Tiger in the 2000 PGA): they're amiable types, not like Ames.

Henry, who won three Connecticut State Amateurs in his day, was hoping a few beers would loosen Micheel's tongue. But Micheel wasn't giving anything up.

J.J. will have to figure it out for himself.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine

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