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After going birdie-for-birdie, Woods wins marathon

Friday, February 22, 2008

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

MARANA, Ariz. -- Tiger Woods made 12 birdies in 20 holes and needed every one of them Friday in a brilliant duel with Aaron Baddeley that sent the world's No. 1 player into the quarterfinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Rarely has Woods played at such a high level, only to have another player match him step for step, birdie for birdie.

Baddeley, who shot 80 in the final round of the U.S. Open the last he played alone with Woods, was 1 up with three holes to play and twice had putts to end the match. A tough, 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole broke sharply below the hole, and Baddeley's 12-foot eagle putt on the 19th hole burned the left edge of the cup, giving Woods new life.

Woods' final birdie was from 13 feet, and it was good all the way. He removed his cap when the ball was still a foot away from dropping, and he looked relieved after winning his longest match in his nine years at this tense tournament.

"It was quality shot after quality shot," Woods said. "Matches like that are fun to be a part of."

Baddeley made 10 birdies, including five in a row to start the back nine, one of them conceded from 12 feet when Woods' tee shot plunked a marshal on the head and went into the sagebrush of the Dove Mountain desert.

What the Australian needed was an eagle on the 19th hole. Instead, he became the latest victim to Woods, who has twice produced late rallies in his bid to continue a streak of victories dating to early September.

"I played great, you know?" Baddeley said. "I made him have to win it."

Woods advanced to the quarterfinals for the fifth time in nine years. He will face K.J. Choi, a 1-up winner over Paul Casey.

Typical of this tournament, those two matches could not have been any more different.

Choi birdied the first three holes to build a big lead and was 3-up through seven holes after making an eagle. But he closed with 11 straight pars to outlast Casey.

The Americans, who started the tournament with a record-low 20 players, now have one player still remaining in each of the four brackets.

Woody Austin easily handled Boo Weekley, 3 and 2, to advance to play defending champion Henrik Stenson, who hung on to beat Jonathan Byrd. Stenson won his ninth straight match, the third-longest streak in the Match Play Championship.

Stewart Cink took advantage of sloppy play by Colin Montgomerie to deny the Scot valuable world ranking points, winning 4 and 2. Cink will play U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, who made six birdies on the front nine and beat Steve Stricker, 4 and 3.

Justin Leonard reached the quarterfinals for the first time and joined Cabrera as the only players to have not played the 18th hole after three rounds. Leonard dispatched of Stuart Appleby, 3 and 2, after running off five straight birdies at the turn.

Leonard will face Vijay Singh, who rallied from 2-down with two holes to play, then beat Rod Pampling on the 25th hole.

After a furious rally to survive the first round, and a far more comfortable win in the second round, Woods looked like he would have another short day of work when he won the first two holes with birdies against Baddeley.

What followed was match play at its finest, with both players giving away a few holes, and an explosion of birdies that made it clear to Woods and Baddeley that would be the only way to get ahead.

Woods hooked his tee shot into the base of a chollo cactus on No. 4 and tried to play out left-handed with an inverted wedge, but it was so far off line that it bounced off a knee-high wooden stake. One hole later, Baddeley returned the favor by pulling his second shot on the par 5 into a prickly pear bush, proving match play indeed can be dangerous.

Taking an unplayable lie, he tried to drop onto the flat cactus bush and have it roll into the desert sand. But when it stayed there, he stepped gingerly into the bush, and his shot hit the cactus.

The only other ugly shot was Woods' drive on the 13th, which tied the match.

"I just figured I had to make birdie to win the hole. If I didn't, I was going to lose the hole," Woods said. "It was that simple. And that's the way it felt. It almost turned out that way."

Baddeley took his first lead with a 12-foot birdie on the 14th, after Woods missed from 15 feet. From there, the Aussie played away from the dangerous slopes to the center of the green, making Woods beat him.

"He did all the things you were supposed to do when you have the lead," Woods said.

And Woods did what he usually does, starting with an 8-iron into 2 feet for birdie on the 16th to tie the match. And on they went, both reaching the par-5 17th in two for a putt at eagle, both finding the 18th fairway for a decent look at birdie on the 18th.

Woods could only think of one other match he played at such a high level, when he went the 36-hole distance with Mark O'Meara in the final of the World Match Play Championship in England in 1998.

He lost that match. Thanks to a 12th and final birdie, he now gets to keep playing.



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