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Tiger gets round with Obama, awaits Match Play

Tuesday - 2/19/2013, 10:54pm  ET

Tiger Woods smiles during a news conference before playing a practice round for the Match Play Championship golf tournament, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013, in Marana, Ariz. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) -- Tiger Woods delivered a "State of the Game" on President Barack Obama's golfing prowess and the news wasn't all bad.

"If he ever spent -- after these four years -- spent more time playing the game of golf, I'm sure he could get to where he's a pretty good stick," Woods said Wednesday.

Woods comes into the Match Play Championship on somewhat of a winning streak. While he revealed very few details about his Sunday round with Obama at The Floridian, he at least made sure everyone knew that they won.

The competition picks up at Dove Mountain, where the first World Golf Championship of the year starts Wednesday in what might be frigid weather.

Instead of having President Obama as his partner against Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and outgoing U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the second-seeded Woods opens this fickle tournament against Charles Howell III in a match that takes both of them back to their youth.

The last time they faced each other in this format, Woods beat Howell in the quarterfinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur.

Woods is the only three-time winner of the Match Play Championship, though he hasn't advanced out of the second round since he last won this event in 2008. The names in the 64-man field have changed over the years. The strategy has not.

"The whole idea is just to beat one guy at a time," Woods said. "That's the thing. There are times where I've played well in matches and I've lot, and other times where I've played poorly and advanced.

"It's pot luck in these 18-hole sprints like this. As I said, it's imperative to get off to a quick start and get up on your opponent early. It's just so hard to come back 18-hole matches, and hopefully, I can do that conceivably for all six."

Rory McIlroy is the No. 1 seed and will play Shane Lowry, a longtime friend and former partner on the Irish team that won the European Team Championships in 2007. In a similar match, former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland) plays three-time major champion Padraig Harrington (Ireland).

The toughest challenge might be the weather, with a front expected to move across the high desert overnight and bringing temperatures so low that light snow is possible. At best, it figures to be frigid for the morning matches as the sun is beginning to climb over The Ritz-Carlton Club at Dove Mountain.

"No one likes to play in adverse weather," said Ian Poulter, playing for first time since Hawaii, when the tournament took four days to start because of 40 mph wind.

Woods said he would be used to the wind and cold because that's what he dealt with in Florida with the president.

It was the second time Woods has played with a sitting U.S. president -- he once played with former President Bill Clinton at The Alotian Club in Arkansas.

"Playing with Mr. President was pretty cool," he said. "He's just a wonderful person to be around."

Woods doesn't use "Mr." with hardly anyone. In fact, he has a nickname for most people in golf. He'll shorten the surname ("Poults" for Poulter, "Stricks" for Steve Stricker) or simply add a "y'' to their name ("Rosey" for Justin Rose). And what name did he use for the leader of the free world?

"Partner," Woods said with a smile.

He sounded surprised to learn that Obama played left-handed, and when asked to describe the president's best shot, Woods said that "he hit a few."

"He's a pretty good athlete, and we all know he played a lot of hoops," Woods said. "He's a lefty, but to see him out there hitting shots ... he hit it well, and we didn't play under the easiest conditions. It was blowing harder than this, and it was a little bit cooler than this. So we played under some tough conditions, and as I said, he hit the ball well. He's got amazing touch. He can certainly chip and putt."

That's the key for anyone in match play.

Luke Donald has one of the best short games in golf, which explains why he won two years ago in the most dominant performance in the 14-year history of this event. Donald is the only player to have never reached the 18th hole in any of his matches.

As for the fickle nature of match play?

Donald didn't even make it out of the first round last year against Ernie Els.

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