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Saturday, 23 February 2008

Henrik Stenson’s valiant defence of the WGC – Accenture Match Play title came to an end at the hands of Tiger Woods as the Swede lost on the final green of an epic semi-final to the World Number One.

The Dubai resident proved once again just how much he loved the desert in the run up to the contest, notching his tenth successive win at The Gallery Golf Club in the morning’s quarter-final when he saw off American Woody Austin by two holes.

But although he battled valiantly and bravely in the last four tussle it was Woods – searching for an incredible 15th individual World Golf Championship title – who prevailed on the final green to book a place in the 36 hole final against Stewart Cink who comfortably beat Justin Leonard 4 and 2 in the second semi-final.

“I knew it was going to be really hard and I knew that I had to play better than I did obviously,” said Stenson. “I put up a good fight but I am still a little bit disappointed with a couple of holes there and two or three shots that were a little bit out.

“He’s been pushed hard a few times this week and that is all any of us can do, keep on trying and eventually we’ll get him. It has been a good week for me and I am very happy with the way I played. Getting to the semi-finals with little or no preparation due to the fact I didn’t feel very well last week, is pretty good.”

The high standard of the contest was set on the opening hole which was halved in birdie fours but when Stenson found the bunker at the third hole and failed to make his par putt from six feet, Woods took the lead for the first time.

It lasted only until the 314 yard seventh where Stenson nearly drove the green before pitching and putting for a winning birdie three, but when the Swede failed to convert his birdie attempt from eight feet at the tenth, the American edged in front once again.

Woods held the lead until a superb 15 foot birdie putt on the 16th green saw the match levelled once more and gave the European Ryder Cup man hope he could yet emulate Woods and become only the second player in history to win the Accenture title in two successive years.

However, Woods is not World Number One for nothing and he regained the lead with a birdie on the 17th, holing from ten feet. Stenson knew he had to push for a winning birdie at the 18th to prolong the match but when his approach shot came up short and his pitch also failed to crest the ridge in front of the pin, he removed his hat and offered his hand to his opponent.

“Henrik played very well,” said Woods, who moved into the semi-finals with a 3 and 2 victory over Korea’s KJ Choi in the morning’s quarter-finals. “It was a tough match and we knew we were going to have to make birdies to win holes.

“That is why that putt I made on the 17th was such a big putt. Henrik, with all his success out here, was going to play well and he certainly did. But I did feel like I was in control of the match all day. I was up early and even though we got all square, he never took the lead.”

Woods’ opponent in the final, Stewart Cink – who beat Angel Cabrera 3 and 2 in the morning quarter-final – was always in control of his semi-final with Justin Leonard after a blistering opening nine holes which he covered in 29 strokes to be four up.

Although Leonard, who had ousted Vijay Singh by one hole in the quarter-finals, battled gamely, the deficit was always too great to make up over the back nine and Cink eventually closed out the match on the 16th green with a 13 foot birdie putt to win 4 and 2.

Looking ahead to the final, Cink was philosophical. “I’ve always said I love playing with Tiger because I like watching him play and he and I have known each other for so long, practically as long as anybody on Tour has known him,” he said. “When you play with him in the latter stages of any tournament, it means you are doing something well, so I’m happy to be there again.”

Stenson’s tournament, of course, is not finished, as he will line up against Leonard in the Consolation 18 hole match which will determine who takes third and fourth place from the week. That is due to tee off at 12.05pm locally, 15 minutes ahead of the afternoon segment of the final, whose first portion begins at 7.40am.

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