Tiger tries to stretch win streak

MARANA, Arizona, AFP

World number one Tiger Woods tries for his eighth consecutive victory in a U.S. PGA Tour-sanctioned event when he tees off here Wednesday in the World Golf Championships Match-Play Championship.

The run is the second-longest in U.S. PGA history, trailing only the 11 in a row won by Byron Nelson in 1945. But Woods has downplayed the streak since he has lost three European PGA events during the span. Woods began the streak by winning last July’s British Open and followed by taking the Buick Open, PGA Championship, Bridgestone Invitational, Deutsche Bank Championship, American Express Championship and Buick Invitational. But Woods was third earlier this month at the Dubai Desert Classic, second in Shanghai last November and shared ninth at the World Match Play Championship in England last September.

That match-play defeat, a 10-13 Ryder Cup record and a history of top seeds falling at this US$8 million tournament raise doubts whether Woods can continue his magic despite two titles in seven tries at the 64-man event. J.J. Henry, a U.S. teammate of Woods on last year’s Ryder Cup team, will play Woods in Wednesday’s opening round. He was ranked 65th but took the final berth in the lineup after South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel pulled out. “Having the opportunity to play Tiger, how could you not relish a chance to play with the best player in the world?” Henry said. “The bottom line is it’s 18 holes and anything can happen. “It all comes down to putting and I’ve been making a lot of birdies the last couple of weeks.” A possible second-round foe for Woods is Australian Robert Allenby, who has never before played the course.

“No one has played there before. It’s going to be new for everyone. There is no advantage for anyone,” Allenby said. “And the good thing is you play one player at a time. You don’t have to play a whole field, so that’s good.

“You just have to grind it out. You never know what’s going to happen.

“Last year Geoff Ogilvy ended up the winner. Several of his matches went into overtime and he won on the last hole. So all of a sudden when you think you’re out, the next minute, he’s holding the trophy.

“So you’ve got to be mentally strong for it because it can be draining too.”

No one is mentally tougher than Woods, but he has stumbled badly in the event before, falling to Australian Peter O’Malley in the first round in 2002.

“A stroke play event is a bit more gray, whereas match play it’s black or white,” said Aussie Ogilvy. “It’s a fun deal to play (but) it might be frustrating if you played it every week. Once or twice a year, it’s fantastic.”

On the event’s old home course at La Costa, wet weather and water-logged fairways added to the challenge of having to win six matches to lift the trophy.

The tournament moves this year to the Gallery South course near Tucson, making such veterans as South African Ernie Els happy.

“We’re not playing La Costa. That’s a good omen for me,” Els said. “Obviously any match you play is a final. You have to play your best every match.” Unlikely winners of the event include 55th-seeded Steve Stricker in 2001 and 62nd-seeded Kevin Sutherland in 2002. Woods’ wins in 2003 and 2004 and a David Toms triumph in 2005 were among the few times a favorite won the final.

“You can play really well and lose and you can play badly and win, so Match Play is a very unpredictable game,” two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen of South Africa said. “You only have 18 holes to try to beat the guy you play against. I’m looking forward to the week. If I make it to Thursday, I’m going to have a great week.”