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Everyone is Beatable at Match Play

February 24, 2000

CARLSBAD, Calif. (AP) _ If there was one theme players kept repeating heading into the Match Play Championship, it was that any one of the world’s top 64 golfers could beat any other on any given day.

That might be true, unless one of those golfers is Tiger Woods.

While others struggled on a blustery and soggy opening day at La Costa Resort, Woods promptly won his first three holes Wednesday on his way to a 5 and 4 victory over Michael Campbell.

In doing so, he showed what others have left unsaid _ that there are really 63 of the world’s top golfers at La Costa.

And then there is Woods.

``I’m playing better, putting better,″ Woods said. ``I knew that if I played my own game, put pressure on Michael, things should be all right in the end.″

Woods was right, of course, on a day that saw such top 10 notables as Nick Price, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh looking for plane reservations after being eliminated in their opening matches.

Unlike many in the field, he seems to relish playing match play, a format he enjoyed great success in while winning three straight U.S. Amateur championships.

``It’s nice to have that feeling of playing one-on-one,″ Woods said.

Woods, scheduled to play Retief Goosen today, birdied the first two holes and never looked back, closing the match with a par out of the greenside bunker on No. 14. It was Campbell’s 31st birthday, but he was in no mood to celebrate while facing a 15-hour flight back home to New Zealand.

Still, he had to pay tribute to a player he beat going down the stretch in November to win the Johnnie Walker tournament in Taiwan.

``Tiger’s unique,″ Campbell said. ``I think I was about 50 yards behind him on most holes. Every time he was over a chip or a putt, you thought he was going to hole it. That’s a scary thought.″

Woods, who made it to the quarterfinals last year before losing to Jeff Maggert, came into La Costa in a minislump of sorts. His putting was off and so was his swing in the two tournaments he played after winning six straight on the tour.

The bad news for the rest of the field, though, is not only that Woods is playing well again, but that he seems to have regained his fire in a format he loves.

``I’ve had a pretty good record in match play, and this tournament is something I thoroughly like to play, there’s no doubt about it,″ Woods said. ``Any time we get a chance to play match play, I like it.″

Woods drew most of a crowd thinned out by chilly, blustery conditions that turned into a downpour for the final groups of the day.

Two matches couldn’t finish, as rain swamped the greens at La Costa. Colin Montgomerie wasted no time today, though, making a 3-foot putt on No. 17 for a birdie to close out local favorite Dennis Paulson, 2 and 1. In the other match completed today, Thomas Bjorn also birdied the 17th to beat Glen Day, 1-up.

The crowds following Woods on Wednesday didn’t include Amy Mickelson and Tammy Mayfair, good friends who were following their husbands around the course.

Unfortunately for the friendship, Mickelson and Mayfair had to play each other.

``Phil and Amy are family to Tammy and I,″ Mayfair said. ``We brought the new year in together. We share houses together. Our nannies room together with the babies here and everything, and we’re very close.″

It turned into a bittersweet win for Mayfair over his pal in a spectacular ending. With Mickelson looking at a 12-footer for eagle on the second playoff hole after the two finished 18 holes even, Mayfair blasted from the bunker into the hole for an eagle.

Mickelson then missed his putt, putting Mayfair into a second round match against British Open champion Paul Lawrie.

``It was very difficult to play Phil,″ Mayfair said. ``Obviously, when someone wins and someone loses, someone is going to be disappointed. I gave Phil and Amy a hug and vice-versa. And we just go on.″

Not going on were such notables as Price and Greg Norman, as well as last year’s champion, Maggert, who lasted only 13 holes against Bob Tway.

``I’ve been struggling a little bit with my game, and today it didn’t go too well for me,″ Maggert said. ``I was four or five over on my own round, and he was a couple under.″

Still, the day’s casualties didn’t approach last year’s first round, when five of the seven top seeds and 12 of the top 20 were ousted.

Last year’s first-round losers included Davis Love III and Tom Lehman, both of whom won Wednesday. Love beat Olin Browne 2 and 1, while Lehman continued his recent streak of good play with a 5 and 4 win over last year’s runner-up, Andrew Magee.

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