Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and holder Ian Poulter made early exits as the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship lived up to its reputation of wild unpredictability on Wednesday.
There were 14 upsets in all from the 32 matches at Dove Mountain’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, fulfilling world No. 1 Lee Westwood’s pre-tournament description of the first day as “one of the most exciting days of the year.”
Three-time champion Woods, striving to end a winless run of 15 months, was eliminated by 65th-ranked Dane Thomas Bjorn after 19 holes.
“I blew it,” the 14-time major winner said greenside after going out in the first round for a second time at this event. “I had a chance. I had all the momentum going down 18 and just gave it away.”
American world No. 8 Stricker, who claimed the 2001 Match Play title in Australia, was stunned by 17-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero 2 and 1.
Poulter, who beat fellow Englishman Paul Casey 4 and 2 in last year’s final to claim his first PGA Tour victory, was beaten by American Stewart Cink after 19 holes.
A tournament record eight matches went into extra holes, but three of the top four seeds ensured a measure of normalcy with comfortable victories on a day of dazzling sunshine, cool temperatures and gusting winds in the Arizona desert.
Top-seeded Briton Westwood never trailed in his match before beating 2007 champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden 3 and 2.
Second-ranked German Martin Kaymer completed a 7 and 6 demolition of South Korean Noh Seung-yul and fourth seed Phil Mickelson breezed past Australian Brendan Jones 6 and 5.