Sunday, March 2, 2003

Woods, Toms meet in Match Play final

Lickliter leads Flesch, others by 4 in Tucson Open

The Associated Press

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Tiger Woods went from breathing easy to a huge sigh of relief. Hardly challenged through four rounds of the Match Play Championship, Woods had to fight to the very end Saturday afternoon to hold off Adam Scott and advance to the 36-hole final against David Toms.

Woods holed a 5-foot par putt on the 19th hole, then won the match when Scott missed his par putt from 3 feet.

"It's unfortunate the way it ended," Woods said. "I'd rather it had been won with a birdie."

Just as dramatic was the semifinal match behind them.

Toms, still recovering from food poisoning, missed 4-foot putts on the 15th and 17th hole that gave new life to Peter Lonard. As usual, Toms gutted it out to the end by holing a 10-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

"I'm just glad I made the putt on the last hole," Toms said. "I felt like I played good enough the whole day to win that match, and I was able to do that."

After 62 matches in five rounds over four days at La Costa Resort, it all comes down to Woods against Tom with a $1,050,000 check riding on the outcome.

In its fifth year, the Accenture Match Play Championship finally lived up to its promise. Sunday will be the first time that two top-10 seeds reached the final - Woods at No. 1, Toms at No. 6.

The advantage goes to Woods, who has made only one bogey in 77 holes at La Costa Resort, and has only been behind on 10 holes all week.

"If he plays his best golf, it's going to be very difficult for me to beat him," Toms said. "If we both play our best golf, I think it will be fun to watch for the fans and in the end, it will be a tough race."

History goes to Toms.

The only other time Woods reached the final, he was soundly beaten by Darren Clarke.

Most expected a Woods-Toms final, especially late in the afternoon when they seized control of their matches.

Both turned into nail-biters, the pressure building with each shot.

Woods, 2 down through seven holes, fought back and took the lead with a soft 8-iron into 5 feet for birdie on No. 15. He followed that with another 8-iron that spun back within 15 inches of the cup, so close that Scott conceded the putt.

Then, the 22-year-old Aussie who has patterned his game after Woods, showed off some clutch skills of his own by making a 12-footer to stay 1 down.

"The putt at 16 was huge," Scott said. "I might as well have walked in if I missed that one. I gave him a good shot."

Scott, cool and confident throughout the sunny afternoon, squared the match on the 18th by getting up-and-down from a difficult stance in the bunker.

They returned to the 10th hole, and both hit their approach shots some 35 feet away. Scott's putt rolled 3 feet by the hole, while Woods misread his putt and it swung 5 feet left of the cup.

He thought he needed to make that putt to keep going. Instead, Scott pulled his par putt so badly that it never even grazed the lip.

A victory Sunday would give Woods another slam - the first player to win all four of the World Golf Championship events since their inception in 1999.

Standing in his way is Toms, the former PGA champion and one of his good friends.

Toms never trailed against Lonard, but he nearly threw the match away.

He had a 14-foot birdie putt to go 3 up with three holes to play, but wound up three-putting for bogey and lost the hole when Lonard saved par from a bunker. Lonard birdied the next hole to even the match, and Toms missed from 4 feet again on No. 17 with a chance to go 1 up.

Both had 10 feet for birdie on the last hole. Lonard's putt slid by on the right, 4 feet past the hole. Toms left nothing to chance.

Earlier Saturday in the quarterfinals, Toms knocked out Jerry Kelly, 4 and 3; Lonard beat Clarke, 1-up; Scott beat Jay Haas, 2 and 1; and Woods continued to dominate his opponents with a 5-and-4 win over Scott Hoch.

Woods was 7 under through 13 holes against Hoch, his best performance of the week.

"The way he played, I don't see anyone beating him this round," Hoch said.

That didn't mean the tournament was over. Three years ago, Hoch lost by the same margin in the quarterfinals to David Duval, and Duval lost badly in the semifinals.

"He made everything against me, and then he couldn't break an egg," Hoch said. "But Tiger is a different animal."

Woods certainly was put through his toughest test.

Having gone 42 consecutive holes without trailing, Woods fell behind on the third hole when Scott holed a 12-foot birdie putt.

The young Aussie, on the biggest stage of his career, looked comfortable in the spotlight and threatened to build an even bigger lead. Scott missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the sixth, but answered with a 12-foot birdie on the next to go 2 up.

It was the largest deficit of the tournament for Woods, but he didn't panic.

Firing at a pin tucked behind a bunker on spongy greens, Woods hit a three-quarter shot to take the spin off the ball and stuck it 6 feet next to the hole. Then, he birdied the ninth with a slick 12-footer to tie the match heading to the back nine.

Scott had a three-putt bogey from 18 feet on the par-3 12th hole to fall behind for the time in the match, then quickly atoned for it by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 14th.

Woods and Scott play practice rounds together at majors. Their swings are eerily similar, and both work with Butch Harmon. Scott even mimics some of Woods' body language, whether it's a fist pump or picking up his right leg after a big drive.

He couldn't match Woods at the end, however.

Two putts for par. One made it, the other missed.

Scott and Lonard will play an 18-hole consolation match Sunday.

TUCSON OPEN: Frank Lickliter II of Franklin edged closer to his second PGA Tour victory, and first since a drastic makeover in his golf swing, by widening his lead to four strokes after three rounds.

Lickliter shot an unspectacular 2-under-par 70 Saturday, but his closest competitors when the day began all faltered badly. He was at 16-under 200 through 54 holes.

"I just played solid," he said. "I stayed real focused. I'd just like to make a few more putts tomorrow."

Lickliter found his score more than acceptable on the heels of the 9-under 63 that propelled him into the lead Friday. Often, golfers get down on themselves when they can't keep up such a torrid pace.

"I'm happy to break par today," he said. "It's so easy to let your expectations go out of control."

Chad Campbell and Northern Kentuckian Steve Flesch had strong third rounds to move from far back into a second-place tie with Brenden Pappas at 12-under 204.

Lickliter, 33, could have had a far more comfortable lead, but he missed a five-foot birdie putt on the par-3, 186-yard 17th hole, then lipped out one from 10 on the tough, par-4, 465-yard 18th for his only bogey of the day.

He also missed a handful of relatively short birdie putts on the front nine.

Lickliter got a break on No. 18 when his tee shot hooked to the left. It might have rolled into the water had the gallery not stopped it.

"That's the happiest I've ever been to see a crowd, believe me," Lickliter said.

Flesch, who has won $5.7 million in five years on the PGA Tour but has no victories, shot an 8-under 64, but it could have been better.

The left-hander seemed headed for a record-shattering round when he birdied 10 of the first 13 holes to go 10-under par for the day.

"It's hard to explain how it happens," Flesch said, "but just everything I hit went in the hole."

But after knocking down birdie putts of 60 and 40 feet from the fringe on the 11th and 12th holes, he three-putted from 12 feet for a double-bogey 7 on the par-5, 663-yard 15th.

"A total loss of concentration," Flesch said. "That's exactly how the game is. I mean, you'd like to stand out there and scream at the top of your lungs."

WOMEN'S AUSTRALIAN: Suzanne Strudwick shot a course-record 8-under 64 in windy conditions for a share of the third-round lead in Sydney.

Strudwick, looking for the third win of her career, matched compatriot Laura Davies at 10-under 206 on the Terrey Hills course. Davies had a 73.

NATIONWIDE TOUR: Joe Ogilvie shot an even-par 71 on to take a two-stroke lead after the third round of the Jacob's Creek Open at Adelaide, Australia. Ogilvie, who spent the last four years on the PGA Tour, had a 6-under 207 total.

Australia's Shane Tait (67) was second, followed by countryman Jarrod Moseley (71) at 3 under. American Roland Thatcher (74) was another stroke back at 2-under 211.

The tournament, co-sanctioned by the Australasian tour, is the first under the PGA Tour's five-year deal with Nationwide, which replaced as the title sponsor.

The top 20 money winners at the end of the Nationwide season will earn 2004 PGA Tour cards, and three-time winners receive an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour.

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