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Tiger Woods Advances - Barely


The Accenture Match Play, golf's version of March Madness, has had an eventful first day, with the usual assortment of upsets — if you can count it as an upset when a great golfer beats another great golfer who has a higher computer ranking based on something that might have happened months ago. Over in the Bobby Jones bracket, No. 1-seed Luke Donald had his visor handed to him by an over-the-hill Ernie Els, making one wonder if 2011 was an aberration (remember, you can't spell fluke without Luke).

We've had upsets in the 2-15 matches — Matteo Manassero over Webb Simpson and Robert Rock over Adam Scott — as well as 3-14 upsets in Y.E. Yang over Graeme McDowell and Ryo Ishikawa over Bill Haas. Bae Sang-Moon ousted 2010 Match Play champion Ian Poulter.  As of this writing, 11 lower-seeded players have posted "upsets," with more certainly to come.

But let's be honest. This first round is all about the state of Tiger's game and the main reason, other than the unique format, that most of us paid attention today. Woods had his hands full with Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who is apparently quite accomplished over in Europe but ain't exactly Seve Ballesteros. Aw, who am I kidding - I never really heard of the guy until today, and it took Woods all 18 holes, including a masterful up-and-down from a bunker after a leaky approach on 18, to close out a 1-up victory. As has been the case during Tiger's hit-and-miss comeback, his putter let him down today, but so did his irons; he needed a clutch par save at 3 to avoid going down 3 through the first three holes in addition to his up-and-down at 18 after a horrible approach.

But just like the NCAA Tournament, this event is all about win-and-advance. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of golf, Woods can erase memories of his Pebble Beach meltdown and become a prohibitive favorite at The Masters based on what he does over the next four days — if he can simply survive. Tomorrow, Tiger faces Nick Watney, who crushed Darren Clarke like an empty Guinness can.

In other words, the 2012 Tiger Redemption Tour faces a few speed bumps, starting with Watney.