Originally created 02/25/03

Golf's version of March Madness



CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Tiger Woods was changing shoes after his final round at Riviera when he noticed a broom putter leaning against the locker of Carl Pettersson, his opponent in the first round of the Match Play Championship.

"Should I break this?" Woods said with a smile.

This is one tournament where even Woods needs all the help he can get.

Golf's version of March Madness arrives this week at La Costa Resort, where the top 64 players available from the world rankings try to advance through the brackets in a $6 million free-for-all.

And just like the NCAA tournament, anyone can be upset.

Woods found that out last year when he became the first No. 1 seed to go home after one round, losing to Peter O'Malley of Australia. Woods has reached the finals only once in the three years he has played.

"You can't put yourself behind the 8-ball in match play, especially against these guys," Woods said. "The quality of play now is so high that it's difficult to come back."

Only the final match is 36 holes, considered to be the true test of match play.

The rest of the Accenture Match Play Championship is five rounds of Phil Mickelson against Phillip Price. Mickelson lost to Price, No. 119 in the world, in a pivotal match at The Belfry that enabled Europe to win the Ryder Cup.

"Anything can happen," Woods said. "The best player doesn't always win an 18-hole match. It's been proven, and always will be proven in match play.

Woods again is the No. 1 seed and will play Wednesday against Pettersson, who only found out Sunday that he got into the field because Vijay Singh withdrew with a rib injury.

"It's an opportunity for me," said Pettersson, a Swede who went to North Carolina State and was the first-round leader at the British Open last year.

He's no longshot. A year ago at La Costa, the top three seeds were eliminated in the first round.

Pettersson got into position to be an alternate when he finished runner-up to Woods by four shots at the Buick Invitational two weeks ago.

When the pairings were finalized Monday evening, the other top seeds were Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen.

Els, who has won four of his five tournaments worldwide this year, will play Phil Tataurangi of New Zealand in the first round. Mickelson plays Robert Karlsson, while Goosen takes on Jay Haas.

The PGA Tour has changed the presentation of the brackets. Instead of No. 1 seed against the No. 64 seed, it has named each bracket after four players - Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Sam Snead.

None of that matters.

The defending champion is Kevin Sutherland, who was the No. 62 seed last year when he knocked off David Duval and everyone else on his way to a stunning victory. The year before, Steve Stricker won as the 55th seed.

The highest-ranked seed to win was Darren Clarke (No. 19) in 2000 when he beat Woods.

Among the interesting first-round matches is Justin Leonard plays Jose Maria Olazabal. Leonard rallied from 4-down and clinched the 1999 Ryder Cup for the United States when he rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole at The Country Club.