One putt changed everything for Ryo Ishikawa and sent Riviera winner Bill Haas home early Wednesday in a riveting start to the Match Play Championship.
Ishikawa was on the verge of losing his first-round match on the 17th hole when he hit 7-iron to 18 feet. Haas was 1 up, and he stuffed his approach to about 5 feet. But the Japanese star holed his birdie putt, the match went back to all square when Haas missed his putt. Ishikawa then won on the 18th hole with a par.
"Maybe more than myself, Bill felt pressure, especially since I am ranked lower and being the first match of the week," Ishikawa said. "The longer the match went, it worked better for me."
Among the early surprises was Bae Sang-Moon, making his Match Play debut. He won four holes in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 4-and-3 win over Ian Poulter, who won this tournament two years ago.
Five of the opening six matches reached the 18th hole, with two of them going overtime, as the format lived up to its reputation as the most exciting in golf. That's particularly true in the opening round of 32 matches, most of them with wild swings in momentum.
Dustin Johnson was 3 down to Jim Furyk after 10 holes when he rallied to take the lead, only to make bogey on the 18th hole to go extra holes. On the par-5 second, the 20th hole, Johnson hooked his tee shot into the desert, had to take a penalty drop, and still won the match when Furyk three-putted for bogey.
It was the first time in four years that Johnson has made it to the second round.
Francesco Molinari, after missing a short par putt to win his match on the 19th hole against Thomas Bjorn, chipped in for eagle on the next to win in 20 holes.
The highest-ranked American, Steve Stricker at No. 5, advanced by beating Kevin Na on the 17th hole.
Graeme McDowell made six birdies and lost his match to Y.E. Yang, who made his seventh birdie with an approach to 3 feet on the 17th hole. Zach Johnson forced extra holes against Hunter Mahan, only to hit his tee shot into the desert and lose.
Tiger Woods lost the first two holes to Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and had to make an 8-foot par putt on the third hole to avoid an even bigger deficit. Woods won three of the next six holes, however, including a 50-foot birdie on the seventh, and was 1 up at the turn.
Top-seeded Luke Donald played Ernie Els in one of the late matches.