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Tiger in a record runaway, but deja vu in Els' return

2/23/2006 - Golf Stephen Ames Tiger Woods + more

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Arms crossed, staring into the soul of his opponent, Tiger Woods looked as though he was wrapped up in one of those nerve-racking moments that define the Match Play
Championship.

Far, far from it.

Ruthless to the end until his name was in the record books,
Woods won the first nine holes -- seven of them with birdies -- and
closed out Stephen Ames as early as mathematically possible, 9 and
8.

"It's been a while since I played one like that," Woods said
with a smile.

He didn't have to look far for motivation.

Ames was on the practice range Monday afternoon when he was
asked if he would take a carefree attitude into his match against
the No. 1 player in the world because not many expected him to win.
Ames shook his head.

"Anything can happen," Ames said, breaking into a big smile.
"Especially where he's hitting the ball."

Woods apparently took his comments seriously. As he climbed into
a van behind the 10th green after halving the hole with pars, he
was asked he had seen what Ames said.

"Yes."

Did it motivate him?

"Yes."

Asked if he cared to elaborate, Woods smiled.

"No."

His golf spoke volumes, from an approach into five feet for a
birdie that was conceded, to an 18-foot birdie on the second hole
that hung on the lip for a few seconds before falling.

Ames never had a chance.

"Tiger played exceptionally well," Ames said. Then he looked
over to confer with Woods on how many birdies he made on the front
nine and he added with heavy sarcasm, "It was a rough nine for
Tiger."

"If he continues playing the way he's playing, he should walk
away with this -- easily," Ames said.

Not everything is easy in the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Ernie Els returned to La Costa Resort for the first time in
three years and left with a familiar result, losing on the 18th
hole to 48-year-old Bernhard Langer. The Big Easy has never made it
out of the second round at La Costa.

The other top seeds, Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen, had no
problem, and Phil Mickelson (No. 5) had to go 18 holes before
getting rid of Charles Howell III.

But it was particularly tough for Scott Verplank, who matched
the tournament record by going 26 holes before he finally got past
Lee Westwood of England.

Verplank spent six hours on the course, and was told that Woods
was out there for only two hours.

"I worked three times as hard as him," he said. "I was
thinking that if I won today, I'd probably practice a little bit.
But I think I already did. So I'm done."

He wasn't alone.

Seven matches went extra holes, breaking by one the record set
in the first round two years ago.

Colin Montgomerie was 4 up through eight holes on Niclas Fasth
before he started losing holes, not to mention momentum, and the
Scot found himself trailing with three holes to play. He caught
Fasth on the 16th hole with a par, then put him away with a par on
the 23rd hole.

"It doesn't matter what hole, it's nice to win," he said.
"Match play is a lottery, a crazy game."

Had this been stroke play, Montgomerie would have shot 77. Then
there was Paul Casey, who shot 4-under 68 and is on his way home, a
1-up loser to Henrik Stenson of Sweden.

Els was among three players in the top 10 who failed to advance
to the second round. Zach Johnson birdied the last two holes for a
1-up victory over sixth-seeded Jim Furyk, while Carl Pettersson
beat 10th-seeded Kenny Perry, 1 up.

After a wild day -- perhaps the most dynamic day in golf all year
-- a juggernaut like Woods and a survivor like Verplank had one
thing in common.

"We both won," Verplank. "We're playing tomorrow."

Ultimately, that's all they got out of their rounds Wednesday --
a chance to move on, with no guarantees.

Woods is a two-time winner of the Accenture Match Play
Championship, but he was knocked out in the second round last year
by Nick O'Hern. That might have been enough motivation, until Ames'
wisecrack about his driving.

"I don't know if you give the best player in the world any
extra incentive to want to beat you," Toms said.

It wasn't the first time for Woods.

Six years ago in the Presidents Cup, Vijay Singh's caddie showed
up on the first tee of their singles match with "Tiger Who?"
written on the back of his cap. It was a mild prank that Woods took
to the extreme, not conceding a putt of any length to Singh and
beating him, 2 and 1.

Asked about his reaction to Ames' comments in a press
conference, Woods said, "Nine and eight."

The large, white scoreboard behind the 18th green generated a
big buzz on a day of sunshine at La Costa as fans walked by and
gawked at the sight of Woods building his lead with each hole he
played.

"It's not physical, where you go up there and put a shoulder in
somebody and take him out," Woods said. "It's about the ability
to bear down and pull out quality golf shots on your own, and put
an inordinate amount of pressure on you're opponent. That's the
only thing you can do in our sport."

That he did. After birdies on his first two holes, he lashed a
3-wood out of the rough into 20 feet for a two-putt birdie on the
third, holed an 18-foot birdie on the fourth, hit a magnificent
shot over the bunker to 3 feet on the 206-yard fifth hole, and
drove to the front of the green on the 328-yard sixth.

By then, Ames began contributing mistakes to fall farther
behind.

"The only two holes I didn't birdie on the front nine, he made
bogeys," Woods said. "What is the chance of that every
happening?"

Given his motivation, odds apparently were pretty good.

It wasn't Woods' biggest blowout. He recalled beating Ted
Snavely, 11 and 10, in the finals of the 1994 Pacific Northwest
Amateur at Royal Oaks in Vancouver, Wash., although that was a
scheduled 36-hole match.

Ames has been through this before, too. The previous record for
largest margin at the Match Play Championship was 7 and 6, which
had been done seven times. Ames lost to Mark Hensby by that score
last year.

"It's the match-play format," he said. "You don't know what's
going to happen that day. Vijay or Phil playing that guy, they
would have lost, too."