Defending champion and No. 1 seed Luke Donald crashed out of the Match Play Championship in the first round on Wednesday, beaten by Ernie Els on another predictably crazy day at Dove Mountain.
Els, who only got into the 64-man field when Phil Mickelson took his family on vacation, won 5-and-4 to make Donald only the third No. 1 seed to exit at the first round in the event’s history.
“I don’t think it would have mattered who I played today. I just didn’t play well,” Donald said. “I struggled. I gave away too many holes and made too many mistakes. You can’t do that in match play against anyone, let alone Ernie.”
Tiger Woods nearly found that out against Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Woods had to play left-handed in one of his three journeys into the desert. He trailed the Spaniard with four holes to play and both of them looked beatable. That changed when Woods drove the par-5 15th green to win with a two-putt birdie, won the 16th with a par and then closed out the Spaniard with an 8-foot par putt for a 1-up win.
“We both made our share of mistakes, there’s no doubt about that,” Woods said. “But somehow, I was able to move on.”
That was the only objective in this World Golf Championship, a single-elimination format in which the only proper use of the word “upset” is the mood of the 32 guys who are headed home.
‧ Ian Poulter, the Match Play winner two years ago, suffered his worst loss in nine appearances when Bae Sang-moon beat him, 4 and 3.
‧ Bill Haas, coming off that monster win at Riviera just three days ago, looked like a winner when he was 1-up on the 17th green and had a 5-foot birdie putt. Ryo Ishikawa holed from 18 feet, Haas missed and the Japanese star made par on the 18th to win.
‧ In the most thrilling match of the opening round, Jim Furyk was on the verge of sending Dustin Johnson home early for the fourth straight year, when Johnson hit his tee shot into the desert and had to take a penalty drop on the 20th hole. Furyk chipped across the green and three-putted for bogey to lose.
‧ Rafael Cabrera-Bello was 3-up with three holes to play against Jason Day when he bogeyed three straight holes and Day beat him with a 4-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole.
The other top seeds didn’t have too many problems, although US Open champion Rory McIlroy had a nervous moment.
He won four straight holes on the back nine to seize control against George Coetzee and was 3-up with three to play when McIlroy lost the next two holes with bogeys, then popped up a tee shot and made par a challenge. Coetzee, however, blew his approach about 60 feet long on the 18th and three-putted for bogey, giving McIlroy a 2-up win.
Lee Westwood never trailed in his 3-and-1 win over Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium. The test for Westwood comes on Thursday against Robert Karlsson, when he tries to advance to the third round for the first time. Martin Kaymer easily dispatched Greg Chalmers, while Steve Stricker outlasted Kevin Na.
McIlroy and Westwood now have a chance to replace Donald at No. 1 in the world if either were to win this week.
Donald will head home to Florida to shake off a poor start to his season.
A year after becoming the first player to win money titles on the PGA and European tours, Donald was not a factor at Abu Dhabi or Riviera and this the first time he’s had three straight events out of the top 30 since August 2009.