Just about everything went according to plan for Tiger Woods in his celebrated return to golf. Except he didn't plan on leaving this early. Woods had no complaints with his game or his knee, but he had no answer Thursday for Tim Clark of South Africa, who played 16 holes without a bogey and knocked the world's No. 1 player out of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
So where does Woods go from here?
"I go to the airport," he said
His swing looked as good as it did eight months ago when he won the U.S. Open. His knee felt so strong that when Woods discovered his tee shot into the desert on the 15th hole hit a cart path and went out of bounds _ a shot that ended any hope of a rally _ he chose to walk 350 yards back to the tee instead of accepting a ride in the cart.
"I knew I had to play out of my mind to beat him," Clark said.
And he did, pouring in six birdies and constantly putting the pressure on Woods throughout a sunny day in the high desert. Clark won, 4 and 2, when he hit his tee shot to 4 feet that Woods conceded for birdie after failing to chip in from off the green.
"I hit it really good today," Woods said. "I just didn't make enough birdies. Tim made some birdies there, and I didn't answer him in the middle part of the round, and consequently I got behind."
Only about 100 fans remained late in the afternoon at Dove Mountain, which surely will lack the energy it had the first two days to welcome back golf's biggest star. Phil Mickelson, the No. 5 seed who survived another scare, is the highest-rated player left in a tournament that is now down to 16 players.
The good news for golf is that it probably won't have to wait eight months to see him again.
Woods likely will play in two weeks at Doral in the CA Championship, although he said he would wait to see how his left knee felt. This was his first tournament since reconstructive surgery on the knee one week after he won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June.
Clark, a pesky opponent with a sharp short game, didn't give him much of a chance.
"I was really working hard to keep myself calm and try to play my own game," Clark said. "I put a lot of iron shots pretty close, and I think perhaps he wasn't expecting that or not. But I don't think I'm ever going to intimidate Tiger Woods, let's put it that way."
Clark, who has four victories around the world but is 0-for-176 on the PGA Tour, next plays a teenager who might be the best hope of bringing some attention back to this World Golf Championship.
Rory McIlroy, the 19-year-old whiz kid from Northern Ireland, birdied his last two holes for a 1-up victory over Hunter Mahan. He would have been Woods' next opponent.
"It would have been great to play him," McIlroy said. "You have to play well to beat Tiger, and obviously Tim did that today."
Woods, the defending champion, had gone 82 consecutive holes without trailing until he caught a plugged lie in a bunker on the sixth hole and failed to save par. He squared the match with a 10-foot birdie on the next hole, and it was tied at the turn.
Then, Clark took over.
Starting with the par-5 11th, he won three straight holes with birdies, and was poised to go 4 up when Woods went bunker-to-bunker on the 14th hole. Woods, however, revived the gallery by blasting out of the sand and into the cup for a birdie to win the hole.
The rally was on. And then it ended.
Woods' tee shot on the 331-yard 15th hit a cart path right of the fairway and headed into the desert. Only when Woods reached the ball did he learn it had gone over a fence and out of bounds.
Even then, he kept it interesting. Woods hit driver for his third shot to 20 feet, and Clark expected him to make it to halve the hole. Instead, the putt missed on the high side, and the match ended one hole later.
Vijay Singh, the No. 4 seed, lost his last three holes and was beaten by Luke Donald of England in 19 holes.
Besides Mickelson, who is coming off a victory last week at Riviera, the only other top-10 players remaining were No. 8 seed Geoff Ogilvy, who won in 19 holes for the second straight day, this time against Shingo Katayama; and No. 9 seed Camilo Villegas, who beat Miguel Angel Jimenez, 5 and 4. Villegas has played only 26 holes in two rounds.
It was a big day for England, which had five players advance to the third round, same as the Americans. Leading the way was Oliver Wilson, who made eight birdies and needed them all in a 2-and-1 victory over Anthony Kim.
Woods wound up playing 32 holes, and said everything felt great _ except for losing.
"I was really pleased, walking down these cart paths, and obviously playing and getting into the rhythm of playing," Woods said. "I have no soreness, have no pain. Now it's just a matter of getting back and playing, and playing more rounds."
One shot that gets overlooked is one Clark never expected to make.
He was on the back end of the fifth green, two tiers above the hole, when he jokingly asked Woods to move his marker one spot over. Moments later, however, Clark asked him to tamp down his coin. Then, his putt rolled right over Woods' mark, down the ridge and broke left toward the cup. Clark raised his arm and pointed his index finger as the birdie putt made its final turn.
Woods beat Clark, 5 and 4, in the second round two years ago. That wound up helping the South African.
"I knew what to expect," Clark said. "I knew how I reacted to it then, and I kind of knew a few things that I had to do differently. I just tried to calm myself down."
That wasn't easy on the 14th, when Clark was poised to put him away.
Woods was in the bunker when he holed it out for birdie, and Clark remembered what happened last year when Woods rallied from three holes down with a birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle blitz against J.B. Holmes.
"I figured, 'Well, here we go. It's about to start now,'" Clark said. "I figured the match was probably going to go to 18, even when I was 3-up with three to play. You fully expect him to do something."
Except leave this early.
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