CARLSBAD, Calif. - Tiger Woods had a short stay at Riviera, withdrawing after two rounds with the flu. This week might be even shorter.
No other tournament is more unpredictable than the Match Play Championship, which starts today with 64 players and will be whittled in half after one day with no regard to ranking. Woods knows both sides of the equation, having won this World Golf Championship twice, and having been eliminated in the first round in 2002 by Peter O'Malley.
"It's the final round on the first day, because anything can happen at any time," Woods said Tuesday. "You never know what you're going to get. You have to play your best and beat the guy you're playing against."
Step one is getting past Stephen Ames, who got into the field as the No. 64 seed when Thomas Bjorn withdrew.
Woods is the No. 1 seed, followed by Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen and Ernie Els.
It will be the last time the Accenture Match Play Championship is held at La Costa Resort, known lately as "Lake La Costa" because the fairways are better suited for kayak races with only a little rain. The tournament is expected to move next year to The Gallery in Tucson, Ariz.
Woods was asked what he will miss about La Costa, and it was a struggle to find an answer.
"I've played well here," Woods said.
At least Woods has a few fond memories. That hasn't been the case for Els, who dislikes La Costa so much that he didn't show up the past two years.
When last seen here, the Big Easy had a 1-up lead on the final hole before Phil Tataurangi knocked in a birdie putt, then birdied the second extra hole to win. Els was eliminated in 2002 in the second round by missing a 4-foot par putt vs. Bob Estes.
Els opens with former Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer.
"If you look past the first round, you're in trouble," he said. "Don't even look at your bracket, because crazy things happen in match play."
Crazy would be the time Jeff Maggert trailed for 33 holes in the championship match until chipping in for birdie to win in 38 holes. Crazy would be the time Kevin Sutherland was 2 down with two holes to play in the opening round against David Duval, won in 20 holes, then went on to win the tournament.
Ian Poulter knows what crazy looks like.
He was playing great golf in the semifinals last year and was all square with Toms when they got to the ninth hole. Toms hit a 5-wood to 4 feet for birdie, holed out a 9-iron from 123 yards for eagle on No. 10, then hit a 5-wood that stopped 2 feet away on the par-5 11th.
It is hard to consider anyone a favorite considering the fickle nature of 18-hole matches.
Even so, Woods and Toms have records that are difficult to ignore. Woods is 21-4 at La Costa, and 33-9-2 as a pro. Toms, who lost in the finals to Woods in 2003, is 18-5 in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
But there is only one certainty this week.
"Any time you get beat in the first round," Woods said, "it's not a positive feeling."
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