MARANA, Ariz. – Hitting it 334 yards as straight as a laser? No worries. That’s golf. That’s the easy part.
It’s crunching numbers that’s a grind, right?
“Way too much math,” Stewart Cink said, shaking his head. “I put unnecessary pressure on myself.”
He was walking toward the first hole, which would serve as the first extra hole in his match against Charl Schwartzel in the third round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, but Cink was still consumed with what had just taken place at the 18th.
“I was wrong,” Cink said.
Minutes later, Cink was right on with a 6-foot birdie putt to defeat Schwartzel, who happens to be a name to which you should pay attention. Diminutive in stature, but ferociously competitive, Schwartzel is getting more comfortable in these World Golf Championships and the South African is a pleasure to watch, but his is a story for another day. Back to Cink’s math woes.
“Colossal mental mistake,” he said, drifting back to the 18th fairway, which is where he stood after a massive drive. His match all square, Cink had 112 yards and to appreciate the advantage he had at the moment, consider that Schwartzel had 200 to the hole.
The South African hit a splendid 6-iron that left him a 30-foot putt down a slope right of the hole. Still, Cink had the big advantage and he had the 52-degree wedge in his hand.
“He told me that was the club, with an easy swing,” caddie Frank Williams said.
Only thing is, Cink started crunching some numbers. He said there are 14 yards between each of his three wedges – the 60-degree, 56-degree and 52-degree.
When he backed off, Cink and Williams talked again.
“It was 112 yards, but a little uphill, say 114-115 yards,” Williams said, and Cink started computing how far he hits a solid 60-degree wedge, added 14 more and decided on the 52-degree, “but with an easy swing,” Williams said.
Then, Cink reassessed. He put 14 more yards in that calculator in his mind and decided a hard 60-degree wedge was enough.
“But I changed clubs and didn’t change swings,” Cink said.
Standing by, Williams chuckled. “Bascially, he swung the 56 like he had the 52 in his hand.”
Cink realized the errors of his mathful ways when his ball shot up in the air and came down 10 yards shy of the green – in a bunker. His huge advantage was now one; instead he was in a distinct disadvantage.
Welcome to the glory of match play, because from being in the driver’s seat to being in scramble mode all with one swing of the club, Cink made amends by splashing his bunker shot barely out, then holing a 35-foot putt to save par, halve the hole, and force overtime.
As if those dramatics at the 18th weren’t enough, the patrons only minutes earlier were treated to something special by Luke Donald in his match with fellow Englishman Oliver Wilson.
Having birdied the par-4 17th to tie his match, Donald stood over a 50-foot putt at the 18th, knowing Wilson was inside of 3 feet with his approach. Game, set, match?
Not quite, not on this day when golf – thank the heavens – stole back a sliver of the spotlight from the Tiger Woods saga.
“It was do or die,” Donald said. “You give it a run and hope for the best.”
The best being dead-center, which Donald’s roll was, so onward went that match. Wilson would win on the second extra hole, slam-dunking a 38-foot birdie putt, only minutes before Cink’s short roll finished his match.
“Match play,” Cink said, shaking his head. He wasn’t about to try and figure it out. He had, after all, not even handled the simple math back there on the 18th, a mistake that still haunted him, even after his match had been won.
They were perhaps the best two matches of the day, but the other six provided highlights:
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No ties for these guys: Retief Goosen and Nick Watney took everyone on a roller-coaster ride as not one hole coming home was halved.
Goosen won the first three holes, Watney the fourth, then they tied Nos. 5-9, which is when everyone was asked to strap in, with Watney winning 10, Goosen 11, then Watney taking 12 and 13 to square the match. It then went back, Goosen at the 14th, Watney at 15, Goosen at 16, Watney at 17 . . .
And the 18th, with the match all square, it went to Goosen, whose 12-foot birdie putt didn’t ball, but neither did Watney’s 6-footer to save par.
So wild was the action that Goosen, a man Adam Scott once wondered “if he had a heart beat,” forced a radio show to go over its allotted time by describing the back-and-forth drama.
You heard right. Goosen talked so much a show ran long.
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Old friends: Gary Matthews had to have mixed emotions when he got to the first tee with his boss, Sergio Garcia. That’s because their match was against his old boss, Tim Clark.
“I was with him eight years,” Matthews said. “He’s a great friend, a great guy.”
Garcia proved to have a little bit too much game for Clark. The Spaniard won the second hole and never trailed, though Clark scrapped back to win Nos. 11 and 12 and wipe out a two-hole deficit.
But Garcia birdied the 14th, then finished off Clark with a brilliant 5-iron from 202 yards that set up a 9-foot birdie at the 17th.
• • •
For a million dollars . . . Name who in this 64-player field hasn’t trailed once and hasn’t even been all square.
Go ahead, we have time.
Then again, we don’t have that much time.
His name is Thongchai Jaidee.
That’s right, Thongchai Jaidee.
He won the first hole for a third straight day and as he had in previous days, the man from Thailand took off form there and rolled. Though he was 1 over, Jaidee went to the turn 4 up on Ryo Ishikawa, who made five bogeys going out.
The end result was a 5-and-4 win for Jaidee, who has played just 43 holes in three days.
• • •
Your last Top 10 guy: If it were a medal tournament, there’s a good chance Ian Poulter would be in the lead. He went 4 under for 14 holes in a 5-and-4 win over Jeev Milkha Singh.
For three days, Poulter has played just 50 holes, but is 9 under.
Poulter (No. 9) is the only top 10 seed left.
The next-highest seed still left is Garcia, No. 13.
As for the American flavor, only Cink is still alive. There are three from England – Poulter, Wilson, Paul Casey – and players from Thailand (Jaidee), Spain (Garcia), Colombia (Camilo Villegas) and South Africa (Goosen).