Match play can be as capricious as it is dramatic. Scott
McCarron learned that in Sunday's 36-hole final of the Accenture
Match Play Championship at the La Costa Resort and Spa in
Carlsbad, Calif. For most of the match McCarron was all fairways
and greens, clearly outplaying Kevin Sutherland, who was
spraying drives everywhere. Yet when the two arrived at the 31st
tee, McCarron was only one up, and he couldn't resist sticking
it to his old high school nemesis. "Hey, are you ever going to
hit a fairway?" he asked.
Sutherland shook his head. "I don't see how," he said. "The way
I'm going today, I feel as if I'm back in high school."
McCarron, 36, and Sutherland, 37, had last gone mano a mano 20
years ago in California, when McCarron was a junior at Vintage
High in Napa and Sutherland a senior at Christian Brothers in
Sacramento. In that match Sutherland was five strokes behind at
the start of the back nine, but shot a 28 coming home and won by
one. There wasn't another 28 in Sutherland's bag on Sunday, but
he scrambled well enough to catch McCarron on the 32nd hole, go
one up on the 33rd and then hold on for the first Tour victory
of his career, one worth $1 million. As we heard countless times
last week, that's match play. Here's how it looked from the
WEDNESDAY Wow, there hasn't been a Wednesday this cruel since
The Addams Family. The three top-ranked players in the
world--Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval--lose their
opening matches, and the fourth, Sergio Garcia, rallies from 2
down to avoid joining them. Without Woods, Mickelson and Duval,
the rest of the suddenly low-profile Match Play looks like The
Producers with Abe Vigoda filling in for Matthew Broderick. This
could be a long week. The Tiger slayer, by 2 and 1, is the
Bathurst Bulldog, as Peter O'Malley, a 36-year-old journeyman,
is known back home in Australia. "I honestly can't say I was
expecting to win," O'Malley says.
No one uses the s word (as in slump) when talking about Woods,
who will blame his poor putting on La Costa's bumpy poa annua
greens. Woods wills in a 25-footer at the 16th, his first birdie
of the day, to extend the match, but before he gets a chance to
hole a short birdie putt at the 17th, Bulldog cans a 20-footer
to end the match.
John Cook doesn't think his thumping of Mickelson is an upset.
Cook is 44 and past his prime, but he won on Tour (the
Reno-Tahoe Open) last year and has been enjoying a resurgence.
"It's not like Wagner beating Duke in the first round of the
NCAAs," he says.
The three big losses, though, accentuate a feeling of dread that
hangs over the tournament. No one wants to go home after only
one round--not counting John Daly when he's playing in the U.S.
Open--yet half the 64-man field is axed today, with each loser
getting a consolation prize of $27,500. "You might as well have
the bags packed," Ernie Els tells his wife, Leizl, the night
before his first-round win over Jeff Sluman. Davis Love III
unpacks six shirts but irons only the one he wears when he opens
with a victory over Phillip Price. "You don't want to be cocky,
iron all your shirts and then have it backfire," says Love, who
knows the perils of a first-round loss. In 1999, when Steve Pate
beat him on Wednesday morning, Love and his wife, Robin, killed
the afternoon by going shopping. On impulse they bought a macaw
named Ruby. "If we sit down to eat and don't feed the bird, Ruby
screeches so loud, you just about come out of your chair," Love
says. "If you leave the house, Ruby yells at you. The bad news
is, these birds live 60 to 80 years. The first kid who moves out
of my house takes Ruby with him." Love sighs. "You're lost for
something to do, and you end up buying a bird. I wish I'd made
it through that first match."
THURSDAY Moments after holding on to beat Love one up in the
second round, Paul Azinger turns to check the scoreboard by the
18th green. The board shows that Garcia and Charles Howell are
all square. "That's the match I'd be out watching now," Zinger
says. "I might go see for myself."
He doesn't, but Martina Hingis does. The No. 5-ranked woman
tennis player and Garcia are an item. The Sergio-CH3 match,
however, is more letdown than showdown. The players scrape
around the last five holes, with Howell falling behind when he
misses the 16th green and tries to fly his pitch over a bunker
but under one of the squat pines that surround the green. He
misses, bogeys to go one down and never recovers.
Told that Hingis was in his gallery, Garcia says coyly, "Oh, was
she? I didn't see." Are you friends? he's asked. "Yeah," Garcia
says. "I guess she likes golf." Later he and Hingis are seen
sitting together on the clubhouse veranda.
FRIDAY Forget Abe Vigoda. Match play is way more exciting than
boring old stroke play, even without Woods and the rest. There
are eight matches today, and lots of do-or-die shots. Azinger
needs a chip-in for a must-have halve at the 17th, and 20 holes
to outlast Niclas Fasth. Jose Maria Olazabal, one up after 17,
sends his drive on 18 wide right. After crying, "I hate this
hole," he curses his way up the fairway, dropping f bombs and
all the other words you can't say in Milwaukee every step of the
way. His mood changes when he's allowed a drop from a sprinkler
head, hits a seven-iron onto the green and holes a 25-footer for
birdie to close out Mark Calcavecchia.
Garcia goes down in a fierce battle against McCarron, who sets
the tone by not conceding a short putt on the 3rd hole. "It was
a downhill breaker," McCarron explains. McCarron dumps his tee
shot into a bunker at the par-3 14th, hits a poor shot out but
drains a 30-footer for a crucial halve. "That's a man's putt!" a
fan shouts. Shaken, Garcia misses must-make putts on the next
three holes, angrily kicks his bag walking off the 17th green
and concedes the match at 18 when McCarron lags close for par.
Hingis is in the gallery again and later serves as ball girl
during Garcia's tennis match with Andy Martinez, Tom Lehman's
caddie, at the La Costa Resort.
When McCarron emerges from the press center, he bumps into
another pro, who offers congratulations. "You beat the show pony,
son," says the pro, who confides that he has been instant
messaging silly poems to some players. He recites the poem he
sent to McCarron after McCarron's win over Colin Montgomerie on
Wednesday: "You tell the truth/You're not a liar/Way to
dispose/Of Mrs. Doubtfire," the pro says. "Walt Whitman here."
McCarron joins friends, including the frat brothers from his
days at UCLA who caused a ruckus during the match with Monty,
especially when McCarron aced the 14th hole. McCarron says the
hole in one cost him $459. "When you make an ace, you buy a
round for everybody," McCarron says, "but these guys ordered
food, everything. What, you have a hole in one and you have to
buy steak sandwiches?" His buddies graciously kick in $100. "I
guess they didn't think I could afford it," McCarron says.
SATURDAY Two rounds today, which means double the pressure. Brad
Faxon, who played better than anyone the first three days,
endures a mesmerizing scramblefest with Olazabal. Faxon,
considered the Tour's best putter, wins with a 20-footer for
birdie on the 20th hole. Faxon's loss to Sutherland in the
afternoon is even more dramatic. Faxon is one down on the 18th,
at which he misses a 12-footer for birdie that would have won
the hole. After Sutherland leaves a par putt 18 inches from the
cup, Faxon shockingly misses his three-foot comebacker, picks up
his ball and fires it toward the fairway, nearly beaning John
Wood, Sutherland's caddie, who was so sure that Faxon was going
to win the hole that he had already turned his pin-sheet book to
number 10, the first playoff hole.
McCarron ends a superbly played match against Azinger with a
flair, calling his shot on a 40-foot putt for birdie and a one-up
victory. "As we walked to the green, Scott said, 'Let's drop one
on him here,'" says McCarron's caddie, Ryan Scott. "I have to be
honest, though. He said the same thing at 16 and didn't make it."
SUNDAY McCarron is back on the 18th green, this time with a
10-foot birdie putt to send the championship match into a
playoff. The putt rolls over the left edge of the cup. This is
the second week in a row he has been the runner-up. He lost a
one-shot lead with three holes to play at Riviera. Two bogeys on
the final five holes cost him today.
As McCarron leaves the course, an older man is waiting. It's
Eddie Merrins, his coach at UCLA. "The best is yet to come,"
Merrins says. It's been a long week, but McCarron can still
smile. "I hope so," he replies.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Lean times McCarron hooped this par putt at the 35th hole to stay alive, but lost a hole later when he failed to convert a birdie try.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK
McCarron and Sutherland (left) had last gone mano a mano 20 years
ago during a high school match in California.