Tiger receives another standing O
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- To find out how to beat the world's top match play competitor, perhaps the best player in this format the game has ever known, we need only look so far as the 147th-ranked man in the world.
So, Peter O'Malley, what's your secret?
"It's just a matter of not making too many mistakes," the Australian said after beating Tiger Woods in 2002.
You see, we need to rely on O'Malley's knowledge because he was the last player -- through 13 Accenture Match Play pairings, two individual Ryder Cup matches and probably a few good-natured Nassau games -- to beat Woods head-to-head.
That's when Nick O'Hern pulled off the biggest upset at La Costa since O'Malley, polishing off Tiger 3 and 1 to end Woods' quest for a third straight Match Play title.
So, Nick, what's your secret?
"It was a matter of the least amount of mistakes possible," the Australian said, sounding eerily similar to his compatriot three years earlier.
Whew, now that's some good analysis.
But really, there's something to it. After all, Woods hasn't lost to more accomplished players, Davis Love III or David Toms, in either of the last two Match Play finals, nor has he been beaten by Paul Casey and Jesper Parnevik in the past two Ryder Cups.
Perhaps it is that O'Hern made Woods do things that, simply, Woods usually does to his own opponent.
Like coming inches away from jarring his tee shot at the remade par-3 ninth hole. Like making him putt that 18-incher for par on 14. Like, well, winning the match.
"When you play 18 holes, it's a lot like a sprint and anything can happen," said Woods, who was trying to win this event for the third straight time. "We certainly have seen that over the years."
What we haven't seen is a match during which Tiger never once led. After the two exchanged pars on the first hole, O'Hern made birdies on the next two, moving to 2 up. Only 1 up coming to the rebuilt ninth (which usually plays as a par-4 but has been converted to a par-3 because of water damage on the fairway), the Aussie tossed a dart at the pin, easily converting from three feet to win the hole.
Throughout the match, O'Hern never caved in to Tiger's steely-eyed glare. The eight-footer to win the 13th hole. The nerve-racking four-footer on 14. And, of course, the match-ender, a 25-foot birdie putt on 17.
"I hit a lot of good putts that didn't go in, a lot of lip-outs," Woods said. "That was certainly the difference in winning and losing a match. Nick made all the putts that he was in position to make, and I didn't."
In fact, Woods failed to make a putt of longer than six feet all day, and ended up with 31 total putts for 17 holes.
That's not the kind of stuff No. 1 players are made of -- and Tiger knows all about that subject. He had a chance this week to regain the spot he owned for 264 consecutive weeks, but that will remain for another time. Maybe the only solace Woods could take Friday was knowing that current top man Vijay Singh also lost in the second round.
As for Woods' other most natural rival, Phil Mickelson's quest to win this event continues. For years, we've waited for Lefty to face Tiger on a national stage, but on Friday all it took was a lefty to stop Tiger's Match Play streak.
Nick O'Hern. Peter O'Malley. Both Australians, both underdogs, both unlikely winners against the best match play competitor of this era.
And therein lies the secret. The one bit of knowledge we've been yearning for. How do you beat Tiger Woods in match play?
Perhaps the secret is ... there is no secret.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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