Thursday, 24 February 2011
Thomas Bjorn  (Getty Images)
Thomas Bjorn (Getty Images)

Thomas Björn was the star of the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship opening round as he beat Tiger Woods on the first extra hole.

On a day when The European Tour showed the strength of its membership once again, World Numbers One and Two Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer also progressed in Arizona.

Woods joined defending champion Ian Poulter in going out of the tournament in sudden death.

The World Number Three led by one with six to play, but Björn - a winner in Qatar earlier this month - then birdied the 13th and 15th.

Woods, whose last victory was 15 months ago in Australia, levelled with a nine foot birdie putt on the last, but could not recover from a wild drive when they went into a sudden death play-off.

So Björn, only 134th on the Official Golf World Ranking before his Commercialbank Qatar Masters triumph, claimed the scalp of the player whose only previous first round loss was nine years ago to Australian Peter O'Malley.

He said: “I think when you look at a field and certainly a match play field, Tiger's the one person you don't want to play, because you don't know what's coming at you. The golf today wasn't particularly pretty from either one of us. Certainly early on we kept giving each other holes, and that's not really the way to do it. But it became more of a battle for both of us.  It was one of those days on the golf course where we're not proud of the way we played, but I'm proud of the way I hung in there.”
If Björn’s result was impressive, arguably the performance of the day came from 17 year old sensation Matteo Manassero, who claimed the scalp of World Number Eight Steve Stricker of America.

Manassero is the youngest player in history to tee up at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but his hugely impressive 2&1 victory over the former World Number Two belied his tender years.

He said: “I played really well. I achieved a victory against one of the best players in the world, and a former champion. So it's a huge achievement for me. I think it was a very tight match until the end, because we never got more than one up or one down. The course is tough, so you don't make a lot of birdies out there.  But I probably drove the ball a little bit better, and I managed to keep the ball in play more, which was probably the difference in the end.”

Paul Casey joined fellow Englishmen Westwood, Luke Donald Ross Fisher and Juston Rose and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy in progressing.

Edoardo Molinari came from two down after six to beat Scot Martin Laird 3 and 2, but that was not the biggest turnaround. Ernie Els lost the first three holes to American Jeff Overton, but won on the 19th.

There is another all-European Ryder Cup clash in the second round, Celtic Manor Resort hero McDowell against Fisher, while Westwood, who overcame Henrik Stenson, next plays American Nick Watney - the player who beat him last year.

Both won 4 and 3, McDowell against American Heath Slocum and Fisher against Australian Robert Allenby.

"It was reasonably straightforward," stated US Open Champion McDowell, the fifth seed. "Heath didn't have his best day and for a change I played nicely and got the job done." It was only his second win in six games at the tournament.

Fisher, in contrast, was a semi-finalist two years ago and later that season won golf's other World Match Play tournament in Spain.

"It wasn't flawless, awesome golf, but in match play you don't have to play perfectly and Robert was a little bit off," he said.

McIlroy chipped in for eagle at the 393 yard fourth and went on to beat American Jonathan Byrd 4 and 2.

The 21 year old has another American, Ben Crane, in the second round.

Kaymer was at his ruthless best to overcome Noh Seung-yul 7 and 6, while there were also wins for Swede Robert Karlsson, Spain's Miguel Angel Jiménez and South African Charl Schwartzel.

After heading for an early finish Rose suddenly lost four holes in a row and so was back on level terms with Johnson with four to play.

But the Englishman responded with birdies at the 15th and 17th to eventually prevail 2 and 1 and set up a meeting with Kaymer.


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