Welshman Bradley Dredge took the scalp of the first round with a stunning victory over World Number Five Ernie Els on an enthralling first day of the World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play which saw 15 European Tour Members clear the first hurdle.
Dredge, seeded 60th, took full advantage of an out of sorts Els, a winner of six World Match Play titles at Wentworth Club, with a convincing 4 and 2 victory at the Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Arizona.
Both players got off to a sluggish start with neither making a birdie on the front nine but Dredge won the tenth and 11th holes with birdies to go two up and take control of the match.
"We were both pretty slow on the front nine getting going," admitted Dredge.
"Ernie missed a few putts, which is unlike him, and then I managed to take advantage of that and hit a few nice shots and hole a few putts when I needed.
"As a professional, I've hardly played match play. The only time I get to play is for 20 quid at my home course against a few friends.
"Playing Ernie Els in the WGC (World Golf Championships) is a bit different. To knock him out, it's pretty special."
He next faces fellow European Tour Ian Poulter who was particularly impressive, not dropping a shot in an emphatic 5 and 4 defeat of American Bart Bryant.
“I got off to a good start, two up after two holes and just kept the pressure on,” said Poulter. “I think he only hit it inside me once so I had a hold on the match all day.”
South Africa’s Trevor Immelman got the WGC – Accenture Match Play off to a winning start in the top match, defeating Dane Thomas Björn by a convincing 6 and 5 margin in one of seven opening round matches which pitched European Tour Members against each other.
Two of the first round ties saw Ryder Cup team-mates face each other. Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood never gave anything away but the Irishman managed to claw his way back from two down after 12 holes to win on the 19th, holing a monstrous 40 foot eagle putt on the first extra hole.
“I had a ten footer on the 18th to win the match and when I missed that I didn’t feel good going into the play-off. I felt that was a great opportunity missed,” said Harrington.
“Thankfully I hit a good tee shot and good second down the first hole to 40 feet. When I hit the putt, I knew it was on a good line. It probably would have gone a few feet by so I was pleased to see it hit the back of the hole and drop.”
For Harrington, the turning point was the 12th when he got up and down for par to save himself going three down. “The difference between three down with six to play and two down was huge for me.”
Harrington will now face Stewart Cink in the second round after the American’s 3 and 2 win over India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.
Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia also cast aside their Ryder Cup ties with an equally closely fought contest which also went into extra holes, with Garcia beating the 2000 WGC – Accenture Match Play champion on the first extra hole.
“Darren didn’t get many things going on the front nine but was hot on the back nine,” said Garcia.
Clarke eagled the tenth to get the match back on level terms and edged ahead when Garcia bogeyed the 11th. Garcia levelled the match with a birdie on the next but Clarke again got in front with a birdie two on the 14th before Garcia made a great up and down on the 17th to get back to all square before winning the match with a birdie on the first extra hole.
Garcia next comes up against last week’s Nissan Open winner, Charles Howell III, who beat Australian Stuart Appleby 4 and 3.
Another Spaniard, José Maria Olazábal also went into extra holes before overcoming American Paul Goydos on the 19th to set up a second round encounter against last year’s champion Geoff Ogilvy, who launched his title defence with a solid 4 and 3 win over another past champion Steve Stricker.
Swede Henrik Stenson secured a narrow victory over Zach Johnson on the final hole, getting some revenge for a fourball defeat in The Ryder Cup last September.
“At The K Club Zach played fantastic and putted great and I thought today maybe he can’t have the same putter, but it was there,” said the Swede, competing for the first time since his win in Dubai a fortnight ago. “He made everything until the 15th. I made a great up and down there and then he had a three footer for birdie which lipped out so I got away with a halve there which was crucial. It would have been the nail in the coffin otherwise.”
Stenson, one down at the time, then went on to birdie the next two holes and par the last for a one hole win which set up a second round match with Korea’s K J Choi.
Fellow Swede Niclas Fasth also took his game to the wire before getting the better of American Joe Durant on the final hole and he will face fellow European Tour Member Retief Goosen in the second round following the South African’s demolition of Scott Verplank by 5 and 4.
Luke Donald overcame Miguel Angel Jiménez 3 and 1 in another of the all European ties while Colin Montgomerie was not overpowered by big-hitting Johan Edfors, the Scot winning 2 and 1 thanks to a round that included seven birdies.
Montgomerie now faces HSBC World Match Play Champion Paul Casey after the Englishman held off former Masters Champion Mike Weir but a slender one hole winning margin.
“I’ve got a difficult game now, Paul Casey,” said Montgomerie. “He beat me at the World Match Play at Wentworth but I’m playing better now, much better. I was seven birdies and a bogey out there today and that would have beaten most people. I need something similar because he is that good.”
Another Englishman Justin Rose defeated 2005 US Open Champion Michael Campbell 6 and 5 to set up another mouth-watering tie against Phil Mickelson, who narrowly beat Australian left-hander Richard Green on the final hole, while World Number One Tiger Woods safely made it through to the second round in his quest for an eighth successive US PGA Tour victory after beating J.J. Henry 3 and 2.
Fourth seed Vijay Singh also made it through the first round with any problems in beating John Rollins 4 and 3, a margin of victory matched by another European Tour Member Nick O’Hern in his match against Lucas Glover.
The highest seed to fall at the first hurdle was however Adam Scott, beaten at the third extra hole but Shaun Micheel, beaten finalist as last year’s HSBC World Match Play.