Tiger Woods led a trio of Americans into the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship

 Getting on track with a chip-in eagle and easing pastK.J. Choi, 3 and 2.

Woods had time for lunch and a quick session on the practice range before playing defending champion Henrik Stenson, who won his 10th consecutive match when Woody Austin gave away consecutive holes to lose momentum and eventually the match on the 18th hole.

Stewart Cink took out U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, 3 and 2, to reach the semifinals for the first time, where he will play Justin Leonard, at No. 50 the lowest seeds still around at Dove Mountain.

“Bracket buster,” Leonard said as he walked off the 18th green after beating Vijay Singh, who narrowly pulled off another escape.

Woods made 12 birdies in 20 holes and needed them all to beat Aaron Baddeley in the third round, a match of the highest calibre. Choi, meanwhile, had advanced over Paul Casey despite making nothing better than par over the final 11 holes.


 

Their quarter-final match was of the par variety.

Woods again hit an opening tee shot into the desert and gave away the opening hole, only to square the match with a 15-foot birdie. They halved the next seven holes, although this is where Choi essentially lost his chance to beat the world’s No. 1 player.

He had a putt to win the hole six straight times and missed them all, three of those putts from inside 12 feet. Woods was scrapping along with pars, throwing his club at the bag on a few occasions.

But it all changed at the turn.

Woods came up just short of the par-5 10th green, but chipped in for birdie and lightly pumped his fist. Choi was still 15 feet away for par on the 12th when Woods dropped a 30-foot birdie to go 2-up, and he had control the rest of the way.

“K.J. put a lot of pressure on me with his ball-striking,” Woods said. “I just had to hang in there.”

So did Leonard in the most fascinating match of the quarter-finals.

For much of the back nine, Leonard had a 1-up lead, Singh failed to hit a single shot that put pressure on Leonard, yet the Texan appeared to be under enormous pressure.

“It wasn’t a clean match,” Leonard said.

But when he holed an eight-foot birdie putt on the 11th to win his second consecutive hole, Leonard went to 3 up and looked strong. Even after Singh drove onto the par-4 12th green, Leonard was determined to beat him with his wedge, and hit a beautiful pitch to four feet.

But his birdie putt lipped out, and that one short miss went a long way in affecting the mood of the match.

With Singh in the bunker on the 13th, Leonard misjudged the wind, came out of his shot and had 80 feet for birdie. He three-putted for bogey to lose another hole.

Singh looked like Houdini for the second straight match. He was 2 down with two holes to play against Pampling in the third round, won the last two holes, then in 25 holes. This was headed in the same direction.

Singh’s approach on the 15th bounced hard off the left side of the green and appeared headed into the desert when it hung up in the lush green grass with only a foot to spare. Singh hit a poor chip and was lucky to stay on the green, then holed a 12-foot par putt to halve the hole. On the par-3 16th, Singh went after a sucker pin and landed in the right rough, the toughest spot from which to save par.

But that’s what he did, chipping six feet by and making it.

Singh finally squared the match with his power advantage, hitting seven-wood to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie.

Leonard played the 18th hole for the first time all week, and he played it to near perfection. Leonard hit his approach to 10 feet, and Singh hit his a foot outside him.

Singh missed – he didn’t have a single one-putt birdie all round – and Leonard’s winning up curled in the right side.

“I deserved that one,” he said.

Cabrera made it through the week as the only player not to reach the 18th green, which was bad news Saturday morning for the Argentine. He couldn’t keep up with Cink’s birdies, and Cink closed him out with a birdie on the 16th.

Stenson, meanwhile, is the marathon man of Dove Mountain. All four of his matches have gone the distance, and he played 25 holes Thursday to beat Trevor Immelman. He made sure his match against Austin didn’t get past the 18th hole, hitting an approach to two feet for his 2-up victory.

Tiger Woods make 12 birdies in 20 holes to win an exciting match

Tiger Woods was at his best. It almost wasn’t enough.

He was firing at every flag he could, making birdie on every other hole, and still feeling enormous pressure from Aaron Baddeley, who held his own Friday in the Accenture Match Play Championship and twice had putts that would have sent Woods home.

“I just figured I had to make birdie to win the hole,” Woods said. “If I didn’t, I was going to lose the hole. It was just that simple.”

Woods made his 12th birdie on the 20th hole of an electrifying match at Dove Mountain, a 13-foot putt that was so true Woods began removing his cap when the ball was a foot from going into the centre of the cup.

It wasn’t the first time Woods has made so many birdies, but those matches usually end quickly. This one stretched 20 holes, his longest match in nine years of this tournament.


 

He was relieved, satisfied, thrilled to reach the quarter-finals.

“All of the above,” Woods said wearily. “All of the above.”

It was devastating to Baddeley, playing head-to-head with Woods for the first time since the U.S. Open at Oakmont, when Baddeley had a two-shot lead and shot 80. That was a distant memory on a cloudy afternoon, for Baddeley recovered from a shaky start by making eight birdies in a nine-hole stretch, one of them conceded when Woods journeyed through the desert.

He stood over a 10-foot birdie on the 18th, a tough putt that swung sharply from right-to-left, and missed it under the hole. He had 12 feet for eagle and the victory on the 19th hole, and was stunned to see it turn left and burn the edge.

Woods seized his first chance with his birdie putt on the 20th hole to win the match, reaching the quarter-finals for the fifth time.

“I played great, you know?” Baddeley said. “I made him have to win it.”

Next up for Woods is K.J. Choi, a 1-up winner over Paul Casey of England. Typical of this tournament, those two matches could not have been any different. While Woods and Baddeley combined for 22 birdies and had a best-ball score of 58 in regulation, Choi cooled after opening with three birdies, finishing with 11 straight pars. That was good enough to advance.

The World Golf Championship again has an American flavour. They began this week with a record-low 20 players, but there is still one American alive in each bracket.

Woody Austin easily handled Boo Weekley, 3 and 2, to advance to play defending champion Henrik Stenson, who hung on to beat Jonathan Byrd. Stenson won his ninth straight match, the third-longest streak in the Match Play Championship.

Stewart Cink took advantage of sloppy play by Colin Montgomerie to deny the Scot valuable world ranking points, winning 4 and 2. Cink will play U.S. Open championAngel Cabrera, who made six birdies on the front nine and beat Steve Stricker, 4 and 3.

Justin Leonard reached the quarter-finals for the first time and joined Cabrera as the only players to have not played the 18th hole after three rounds. Leonard dispatched ofStuart Appleby, 3 and 2, after running off five straight birdies at the turn.

Leonard will face Vijay Singh, who rallied from 2-down with two holes to play, then beat Rod Pampling on the 25th hole.

After a furious rally to survive the first round, and a far more comfortable win in the second round, Woods looked like he would have another short day of work when he won the first two holes with birdies against Baddeley.

What followed was match play at its finest, with both players giving away a few holes, then an explosion of birdies that kept the gallery hustling along the desert to see what they would do next.

There were a few ugly moments.

Woods hooked his tee shot into the base of a chollo cactus on No. 4 and tried to play out left-handed with an inverted wedge, but it was so far off line that it bounced off a knee-high wooden stake. One hole later, Baddeley returned the favour by pulling his second shot on the par 5 into a prickly pear bush, proving match play indeed can be dangerous.

Taking an unplayable lie, he tried to drop onto the flat cactus bush and have it roll into the desert sand. But when it stayed there, he stepped gingerly into the bush, and his shot hit the cactus.

Woods plunked a marshal in the head with his errant drive on the 13th, with caromed into the desert and led to a penalty drop. Then came a nerve-jangling finish.

“It was quality shot after quality shot,” Woods said. “Matches like that are fun to be a part of.”

Baddeley took his first lead with a 12-foot birdie on the 14th, after Woods missed from 15 feet. From there, the Aussie played away from the dangerous slopes to the centre of the green, making Woods beat him.

“He did all the things you were supposed to do when you have the lead,” Woods said.

And Woods did what he usually does, starting with an eight-iron into two feet for birdie on the 16th to tie the match. And on they went, both reaching the par-5 17th in two for a putt at eagle, both finding the 18th fairway for a decent look at birdie on the 18th.

Woods could only think of one other match he played at such a high level, when he went the 36-hole distance with Mark O’Meara in the final of the World Match Play Championship in England in 1998.

He lost that match. Thanks to a 12th and final birdie, he now gets to keep playing.

Tiger move on to the next match with Aaron Baddeley

MARANA, Ariz. – Tiger Woods barely broke a sweat. Steve Stricker went into overtime for the second straight day. They had only one thing in common Thursday in the Accenture Match Play Championship, which ultimately was all that mattered.

Both are still playing.

One day after a stunning comeback to survive the opening round, Woods built a quick lead against Arron Oberholser and never gave him much hope in a 3-and-2 victory. Oberholser advanced to the second round with a victory over Bright’s Grove, Ont., nativeMike Weir on Wednesday.

The thrills belonged to Steve Stricker, who made a Steve Stricker on the 19th hole to extend the match, then beat Presidents Cup teammate Hunter Mahan with a birdie putt just inside 50 feet. It was the second straight day Stricker won in 20 holes.

And it was the second consecutive year that Phil Mickelson was given a long weekend off.


 

Fresh of a victory at Riviera, he couldn’t make enough birdies to keep up with Stuart Appleby, who couldn’t miss. Appleby’s ninth birdie came on the 17th hole, and it was enough to send Lefty packing with a 2-and-1 loss.

“It was a good match, but unfortunately, I just didn’t shoot low enough,” said Mickelson, who has never made it past the quarter-final in this tournament. “I wanted a chance on 18, but unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

David Toms didn’t have any chance at all.

His back flared up late in his first-round victory over Masters champion Zach Johnson, and the pain was such that he had to withdraw before facing Aaron Baddeley, giving the Australian a day off.

Next up for Baddeley is a third-round date with Woods.

Look Behind you Tiger, Phil is sneaking up on you

In the wake of his win at Riviera on Sunday, Phil Mickelson trimmed Tiger Woods’ lead at the top of the world rankings to single digits.

Woods led Mickelson by 11.06 average points a week ago — Mickelson had only 9.01 points total — but that advantage was trimmed to 9.53 points this week: 19.71 for Woods to 10.18 for the second-ranked Mickelson.

Steve Stricker, Ernie Els and Adam Scott rounded out the top five in the same positions they held a week ago, while Justin Rose moved up one spot to sixth, bumping Jim Furyk to seventh.

That pattern repeated itself a few more times: K.J. Choi bumped Rory Sabbatini from the eighth spot, Padraig Harrington knocked Vijay Singh out of the 10th spot and Henrik Stenson replaced Sergio Garcia at 12th.

Angel Cabrera and Geoff Ogilvy remained 14th and 15th, while Luke Donald was up three spots to 16th. That knocked Zach Johnson, Aaron Baddeley and Lee Westwood down one spot apiece, while Trevor Immelman rounded out the top 20.

Mickelson shows patience and wins

LOS ANGELES – It has been 20 years since Phil Mickelson first stepped inside the ropes at Riviera, a 17-year-old amateur in awe of the fabled course off Sunset Boulevard, inspired by names like Hogan, Snead and Nelson that were on the trophy.

Lefty finally joined them on Sunday, adding to his impressive collection of PGA Tour titles on the Left Coast.

Mickelson made two clutch putts on the back nine, seized control when Jeff Quinney self-destructed with the putter, and took a relaxing walk up the 18th fairway with a victory he felt was a long time coming.

He closed with a 1-under 70 for a two-shot victory, the 33rd of his career, with 16 of those in California and Arizona.

“The fact I haven’t won this and it has taken me so long to win makes it that much more special,” Mickelson said.


 

A year ago, Lefty was poised to win in LA until he bogeyed the 18th hole and lost in a playoff against Charles Howell III. This time, he was steady down the stretch as Quinney’s putter changed from a magic wand to a ball-and-chain.

He made four straight putts outside 10 feet, only to make three straight bogeys starting on the 13th hole. The first two came from missing consecutive par putts from seven feet that allowed Mickelson a cushion over the closing holes.

“I just put a little too much pressure on the putter on the back nine,” said Quinney, who made a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that only changed the final score. He closed with a 71.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald each shot 68 and tied for third, although this was a two-man race from the start, and a one-man celebration over the final two holes.

Mickelson finished at 12-under 272 and earned US$1,116,000.

He might never catch Tiger Woods in the world ranking, PGA Tour victories or in the majors, but for now he has done something the world’s No. 1 player hasn’t – win at Riviera.

Jack Nicklaus never won here, either.

Riviera was Woods’ first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old. He has not played the last two years.

Mickelson made his PGA Tour debut at Torrey Pines at age 17, then showed up a week later at Riviera. As much as the course impressed him, it also confounded him over the years, and he played there sparingly until returning with a renewed commitment last year.

“I didn’t understand the nuances of this golf course, where you can and can’t hit it,” he said. “And learning those nuances and how to hit the shots into some of these greens has helped me over the years. Last year was when I started to put it together, and I’m fortunate to break through this year.”

His work on the West Coast is not over, even though he has won in every city of regular PGA Tour stops, from ocean courses of Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, soggy La Costa Resort, desert courses in Phoenix, Palm Springs and Tucson, and now Riviera.

Next up is the Accenture Match Play Championship, which he has never won.

The victory came one week after taking an 11 on the 14th hole at Pebble Beach to miss the cut, and two weeks after he lost a playoff toJ.B. Holmes in the FBR Open.

Mickelson said the key to winning Riviera was a change in his putter.

He changed golf balls to a slightly softer cover, and only last week realized that he didn’t recognize the same sound of the ball striking his putter, which caused him to hit harder. He changed the insert in his putter to return the same sound and feel, and it paid off.

Two of his biggest putts came on the back nine.

Quinney had holed a 15-foot putt on No. 8 to close within one shot, then took the lead at the turn with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 9 and a bogey for Mickelson, whose seven-iron from the top of a bunker sailed well to the right and landed in the 10th fairway.

Mickelson hit driver beyond the 310-yard 10th hole, hit a flop shot to six feet and made the tricky putt to pull even. With a one-shot lead on the par-3 14th, he blasted out of a bunker some seven feet short, while Quinney had a little less than that for par.

Mickelson’s putt was true, Quinney missed on the low side and the margin was two.

“Being able to go first and get that in, I think that made his putt a little more difficult,” Mickelson said.

Quinney held on as long as he could, making a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 11th after Lefty had chipped to a foot for birdie. Moments after CBS Sports posted a graphic showing Quinney had gone 214 holes without a three-putt, the streak ended with a bogey at the worst time. That was the start of his undoing.

Mickelson attributed his West Coast success to being eager to play after his long winter break, and competing at tournaments that he grew up watching as a kid. The victory Sunday brought back memories of his first trip to this tournament.

“Then I was trying to make the cut,” Mickelson said. “This week I was trying to win. I like it better now.”

Phil Mickelson leads at the Northern Trust

LOS ANGELES – Phil Mickelson learned as a junior golfer to never underestimate anyone, no matter the size of his lead or the pedigree of his opponent.

And while the odds of Lefty finally winning in L.A. looked good as ever Saturday at the Northern Trust, where he shot a 1-under 70 for a one-shot lead overJeff Quinney, two holes showed how much work remains to add Riviera to his West Coast collection of trophies.

One came at the fabled par-3 sixth, where Quinney hit a seven-iron that he thought was headed for the bunker in the middle of the green, only to land just to the right and roll back into the cup for an ace. The other came at the end of the third round when Quinney holed a 35-foot birdie putt to close the margin to one stroke.

“If the guy is good enough to be in the last group, he’s obviously playing well enough to win,” Mickelson said. “I know that I won’t be handed anything tomorrow. I know how well Jeff is playing. And I know that there are guys that are right there and can shoot a low round tomorrow. It’s my job to go out and hit solid shots.”

Mickelson was at 11-under 202, and Quinney might be the only guy he has to worry about.


 

John Rollins lost momentum with consecutive bogeys and shot 69, leaving him five shots behind. Scott Verplank overcame a four-putt from 30 feet on the fringe at the par-5 first for a 71 that put him at 208, along with Stuart Appleby (69) and Vaughn Taylor (71).

A year ago, Mickelson had a one-shot lead over Padraig Harrington with five experienced players separated by only three shots. He wound up losing in a playoff to Charles Howell III.

“I like it better this time,” Mickelson said.

And well he should.

Mickelson has 32 career victories, 15 of those coming in every West Coast Swing city but Los Angeles. He is 18-7 when he has at least a share of the lead going into the final round.

“Other than Tiger, he’s probably the next best front-runner,” Verplank said. “He’s awful good.”

Quinney, a former U.S. Amateur champion who took five years to reach the PGA Tour, has held the 54-hole lead only once, last year in Phoenix, and bogeyed the last two holes to finish third.

“He’s going to bring a lot to the table,” Quinney said. “I have to bring my best to the table.”

Quinney did not sound the least bit concerned about a four-shot deficit to Mickelson, saying after his second round that Riviera is not the type of course where one has to shoot 64 to make up ground.

Then, he looked as though he might do just that.

Quinney birdied the first hole with a long chip across the green on the par 5, then gained another shot when Lefty three-putted for bogey on No. 4. Quinney then holed a 20-foot birdie putt to reduce the lead to one-shot going into the sixth hole.

Then came an ace that he heard, but never really saw.

With a seven-iron from 163 yards, the ball landed to the edge of the bunker and trickled down toward the cup. Quinney couldn’t see because of the haze, but figured he was in decent safe and walked away from the tee. He looked over his left shoulder one last time, and his eyes grew wide when he heard an enormous cheer from the hill around the green.

He ran toward his caddie, unsure whether to hug or high-five, and it turned out to be a clumsy celebration.

“We need to get that organized,” he said.

That gave him the lead, but only for as long as Mickelson hit eight-iron to five feet and made birdie, putting both at 10 under.

“I thought that was as good of a response as I could have expected,” Mickelson said. “I thought that was a big 2 for me.”

They matched birdies at No. 10 – Quinney with a wedge to two feet, Mickelson by driving to the front of the green – and neither showed signs of backing down. But everything changed with one swing.

Mickelson was on the par-5 11th green in two, Quinney just short of the bunker. Quinney caught two much ball, however, and it sailed over the green. He chipped back to 15 feet and did well to escape with bogey.

But it was a two-shot swing after Mickelson two-putted for birdie, and Quinney spent the rest of the back nine trying to catch up. Mickelson saved par with a 10-foot putt on No. 15, then made par from about 6 feet on the final hole to keep his lead.

It wasn’t a big lead, not nearly as big as Mickelson wanted. But it was good enough for him.

“Tomorrow we’ll go head-to-head, and if I can just tie him, tie goes to me,” Mickelson said. “So that’s the nice thing about having a shot in hand.”