MARANA, Ariz. — Tiger Woods must be mellowing with age.
There was a time when a comment from his opponent in the WGC-Match Play Championship, even tongue-in-cheek, would be an extra bit of motivation that Woods didn’t need. Most famous at this event was in 2006, when Stephen Ames was asked about playing Woods and said that anything could happen, adding with a big smile, “Especially where he’s hitting it.”
Woods beat him 9 and 8, the most lopsided score in tournament history.
But that was when Woods was No. 1 in the world. He is the No. 19 seed this week at Dove Mountain.
That was when Woods was winning two majors a year. Now he hasn’t won a tour event in more than two years.
So when Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who faces Woods in the opening round today, said that his opponent is “beatable,” Woods didn’t seem the least bit bothered.
“I feel exactly the same way as he does,” Woods said. “I feel he’s beatable, too.”
Then again, that goes for all 64 players in the field for the first World Golf Championship of the year. The difference in talent at this level of golf is miniscule. Over 18 holes of match play, it’s even smaller.
The best example might be Luke Donald, the defending champion and No. 1 player in the world. For his opening round, he gets to play Ernie Els, a three-time major champion and seven-time winner of the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, where each match is contested over 36 holes.
Donald has had a slow start to the year. He tied for 48th in the Abu Dhabi Championship, and closed with a 78 at Riviera Country Club last week to tie for 56th, the first time in more than two years that he didn’t earn ranking points despite making the cut.
Even so, he’s coming off a year in which he won money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour, and won a career-high four tournaments, starting with the Match Play Championship. Donald was so dominant at Dove Mountain last year that he never played the 18th hole all week in competition.
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy makes his PGA Tour debut this year by taking on George Coetzee, who is playing for the first time ever in America as a pro.