VIRGINIA WATER, England – Unbeatable for two months, Tiger Woods' winning streak came to a swift and sudden conclusion Thursday when Shaun Micheel knocked him out in the first round of the World Match Play Championship.
Woods had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole to keep alive his slim hopes, but he removed his cap and walked over to shake hands with Micheel as the ball was still rolling left of the cup. The score was 4 and 3, matching Woods' worst loss in match play.
"I don't think you're ever excited when you've lost," Woods said.
It's been a long time since he has.
His winning streak began about four hours away at Hoylake, where Woods won the British Open and began an amazing run that restored some of his mystique. That meant nothing to Micheel, who was runner-up by five shots to Woods at the PGA Championship last month, but was hardly fazed on a cloudy afternoon outside London.
After falling behind on the first hole of the 36-hole match, Micheel won four straight holes in the morning to build a lead that he never gave up. Woods won the first two holes in the afternoon to cut the lead to one hole, but he missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 fourth — a recurring theme — and failed to win another hole until it was time to leave.
And he had plenty of company.
Jim Furyk, who rose to No. 2 in the world ranking by winning the Canadian Open on Sunday, got hammered by Robert Karlsson of Sweden, 6 and 4, highlighting a first round in which six of the higher seeds were beaten.
But the biggest to fall was Woods.
He was the overwhelming favorite in the HSBC World Match Play Championship, which set a record for advance ticket sales with the No. 1 player in the world competing for the first time in eight years. The fans were packed around every green and rushed from hole to hole with their umbrellas, although this isn't what they came to watch.
Micheel is No. 77 in the world rankings, and he hasn't won a tournament since capturing the '03 PGA Championship at Oak Hill. But he looked solid from the start, rarely missing the green and holing enough par putts that Woods couldn't make up any ground.
"Anybody can beat anybody on any given day out here," said Colin Montgomerie, a 1-up winner over David Howell. "And that's what is happening today."
Even so, Montgomerie walked into the press center for his interview in time to see Micheel make a 10-foot eagle putt on the 12th hole to go 4 up with six holes to play, and he watch on just as stunned as everyone else.
Woods looked bewildered on the greens, badly missing putts on the low side of the hole as he struggled to find the right speed.
"I just had a hard time with my pace, and if you have a hard time with your pace, it's hard to read greens," Woods said. "It got a little better in the afternoon on the back nine, but by then it was already too late."
Woods also lost 4 and 3 to Darren Clarke in the 36-hole final of the Accenture Match Play Championship in California six years ago.
The winning streak had been the longest of his career.
Woods won six straight PGA Tour events at the end of 1999 and the start of 2000, but he finished sixth in the Johnnie Walker Classic in the middle of that run. He will try to match that tour streak in two weeks at the American Express Championship outside London.