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Tiger Woods makes an exit after Clark's big day

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Mark Whicker
February 27, 2009
— Somewhere in the midst of his first-round match with Retief Goosen on Wednesday, Tim Clark wondered what on earth he was doing.

He was winning.


“I had seen the bracket,” Clark said. “I knew I’d probably play Tiger next if I won. I thought, do I really want to win?”


But he did, leaving himself no choice.


Much to his satisfaction, and much to the mortification of the pro golf industry, Clark won again Thursday.


Be careful what you don’t wish for.


“This is obviously massive for me,” said Clark, next to whom almost everything looks massive.


The 5-foot-7 South African, No. 32 in the world, borrowed some of the brilliance Woods hasn’t been using since June.


He had six birdies and no bogeys, and won the match on the 16th green, 4 and 2.


The WGC-World Match Play organizers wanted more than just a hors d’oeuvre, of course.


They still have Phil Mickelson, who held off Zach Johnson.


They also have Camilo Villegas, who hasn’t seen the final four holes of the Dove Mountain course because he has won his matches too fast.


And they have Rory McIlroy, the stunningly powerful 19-year-old from Northern Ireland, who birdied 15, 17 and 18 and snipped Hunter Mahan, 1 up.


He plays Clark today, not Woods.


Disappointed?


“I’m not,” McIlroy said. “I’ll be the first to say if I stood on the first tee with Tiger, I would be intimidated.”


But Clark remembered ‘07, when Woods ran him off the course in the second round, 5 and 4.


He wasn’t playing well then. This year he has been in the Top 15 in three different PGA Tour events.


Even though Clark hasn’t managed a U.S. tour win, he did win the Scottish Open in ‘05, was a Masters runner-up in ‘06 and won the Australian Open last year.


Clark was 154th in distance and 156th in greens in regulation in ‘08. But he can putt, with a stick that’s almost as tall as he is, and he wears out fairways. He has trouble chipping because he suffers from a condition that prevents him from rotating his palms to face upward. He can’t hold the face of his wedge open.


So this is not somebody whom the Lord designed to win golf tournaments. Clark has been the underdog nearly every day of his life. Thursday was not an adjustment.


As for Woods, he plugged a tee shot into the face of a bunker on the sixth to lose that hole, lipped out on 13 to lose that, and seemed comatose on the 14th when he flew his approach into a bunker.


So, of course, he holed out, pointing grimly at the pin when it happened.


Clark’s arteries began to hum.


“I remember last year, when he beat J.B. Holmes,” Clark said, referring to Woods’ comeback from three down with five holes left. “I thought, here we go, it’s about to start now.”


And then it ended.


Woods, trying to drive the par-4 15th, almost beaned Wile E. Coyote. His shot sailed past an out of bounds marker that he didn’t know existed.


Clark, perhaps succumbing to the blood rush, bunkered his drive.


“I couldn’t have been in a worse spot,” he said. “I could have made 5 or 6 from there.”


Woods trudged back to the tee and then rocketed his 330-yard drive to within 19 feet. Now a putt would halve the hole if Clark managed a par. But Clark got up and down. Woods missed, conceded the hole and the match, and got into a van to the clubhouse.


“I didn’t make enough birdies,” Woods said. “I caught Tim playing really well. But I’m very pleased.


I hit the ball well. I didn’t have any pain, walking up and particularly down the cart paths. I felt like I hit two bad shots in two days.”


Tiger actually seemed far more agitated than that, especially when he kept hanging putts on the lip.


“He must expect to make more putts than the rest of us,” Clark said.


Most improbably, Clark gained one hole on Tiger in the four par-5s they played.


But then the ball is flying here, with downslopes and altitude and wind. Mickelson hit a 193-yard 9-iron at one point, and on Wednesday an announcer uttered this heretofore unspoken sentence: “Mike Weir has driven the green.”


Otherwise, Tiger’s game survived this stress test. He clearly is not jumping out of his shoes at the ball, with his stabilized leg allowing him better balance and more control. An energy-conserving swing will only mean more years of slapping around the Tour.


Meanwhile, Clark plays on.


“I don’t think I’m going to intimidate anybody,” Clark said, grinning. “But this isn’t a huge surprise to me.”


Moral of the story: You can’t spoil a party if you stay home.



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