A day after his hotly anticipated return to the PGA Tour Tiger Woods made a premature exit from the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship after being upset 4&2 by South African Tim Clark on Thursday.
The top seed and defending champion,who had been sidelined by a knee injury after winning his 14th major title at the US Open in June,surrendered an early one-hole advantage in the second round before losing on the 16th green.
Clark,world-ranked 33rd,had not reached the third round in five previous appearances at the event but outclassed the game’s leading player with a flawless six-birdie display.
Woods’s unexpected departure left the opening World Golf Championships (WGC) event of the year with just one of the top five seeds,fifth-ranked Phil Mickelson having squeezed through for the second day in a row.
Second-seeded Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington (third) had been eliminated in the opening round while Vijay Singh (fourth) squandered a two-up advantage with two holes remaining to lose to Britain’s Luke Donald after 19 holes.
The absence of three-times champion Woods,however,will be sorely felt for the rest of the week at Dove Mountain’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Club with spectator attendance and television ratings likely to dip.
Woods,who beat Australian Brendan Jones 3&2 in Wednesday’s opening round on his return to the Tour after an eight-month absence,led Clark by one after four holes before his opponent took control in the bright desert sunshine.
The straight-hitting South African piled up five birdies in nine holes from the fifth before sealing victory with a conceded birdie at the par-three 16th.
“I knew if I came out and played good,I’d always have a chance,” said Clark,who was hammered 5&4 by Woods in the second round two years ago. “I felt pretty relaxed out there.
“Luckily I’ve had the experience of playing with him and I knew I had to treat like another round of golf and go out and play. It was a great match for me.”
Woods,beaten for only the fourth time in his last 28 matches at the event,applauded Clark’s six-birdie display.
“I just happened to catch Tim playing really well and I didn’t make enough birdies to answer him,” the 33-year-old American told reporters.
“I hit it really good today,I just didn’t make enough birdies. Tim made a lot of birdies out there and I didn’t answer in the middle part of the round. Consequently I got behind.”
Mickelson,fresh from victory at last week’s Northern Trust Open,held off a late fightback by fellow American Zach Johnson to win one up.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Mickelson said after being taken to the final hole for the second day in a row. “Zach doesn’t make any mistakes,he’s an incredible putter and I was fortunate to get hold of a victory.”
Mickelson will next meet compatriot Stewart Cink,who won a marathon battle with Britain’s Lee Westwood after 23 holes.
Paul Casey charged four ahead of Australian Mathew Goggin after nine holes before cruising into the third round 6&4 while fellow Britain Ross Fisher hammered American Pat Perez 6&5.
American Jim Furyk birdied three of the first five holes en route to a 4&2 win over Germany’s Martin Kaymer and South African Ernie Els reached the third round for the first time in six years by beating American Steve Stricker 3&2.
Colombia’s Camilo Villegas completed a 5&4 crushing of Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez,Britain’s Oliver Wilson beat American Anthony Kim 2&1 and Justin Leonard edged fellow American Davis Love III one up.