MARANA, Ariz. – Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano boldly said the other day that Tiger Woods was “beatable.” As it happened, he was so right.
He just didn’t do it.
“If there was one day to beat Tiger Woods, this was it,” Fernandez-Castano said more than once after losing 1-down in a sloppy first-round meeting at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. “I had my chances and didn’t take advantage of it. And you can’t do that against one of the greatest in history.”
The Spaniard was spot on. With his comments, anyway. His golf, particularly his back-nine putting, was anything but.
Nor was Woods’ game anything to photograph. He played as if he’s still stuck in some sort of process, often resembling a reclamation project rather the guy whose match-play prowess once made people forget about Bobby Jones. Yes, Woods has made progress since last fall, but this was another time where he paddled without going anywhere, except into the second round against Nick Watney.
“Neither one of us had our best stuff,” Woods understated after his first time seeing Fernandez-Castano play.
Nor their best body language. At times they reacted like a couple of guys shooting 94 on a muni Saturday morning. The Spaniard, a five-time winner on the PGA European Tour, slumped and walked slowly at times down the stretch, looking like someone whose pet had perished. Woods muttered a couple of unprintable words under his breath as he walked off the 16th tee–and that minutes after he drove a par-4 green and reclaimed the lead for good.
You want beatable? Here was beatable:
Woods hit a shot left-handed after a wild drive right on the second hole and went 2 down. He hooked a drive into desert at 10 and took four shots to reach the green, losing the hole to an opponent who took an unplayable penalty stroke en route to bogey. He hit his 5-wood approach at the par-5 11th long and left into a bush, advanced his ball only a couple of feet and lost the hole to someone who had to chop his second shot out to the fairway. He played a three-hole stretch, Nos. 9-11, in 4 over par.
“This golf course, if you’re off, can make you look like a fool,” Woods said of a Ritz-Carlton Golf Club course featuring tricky, sloping greens. “I had a hard time reading the greens.”
On top of all that, he sneezed and coughed and wheezed, signs of a cold he figures he got from his two children.
“I’m sure he played far away from his best,” Fernandez-Castano said.
Yes, you might say Woods’ performance was light years away from 2000, not a dozen.
Fernandez-Castano got to the golf course looking something like Tommy Armour III, circa 1989–collar up, hair hanging over a white visor and white tape on his right index finger. (The only difference he didn’t wear black and white and project something out of Hollywood.) He went to the first tee “very nervous.” And he left town perhaps without people really knowing his name, for because it is so long it appeared “G. Fdez-Castano” on multiple printed materials.
“I was sorely disappointed,” he said, talking of the lost opportunity, not the name recognition. “On the other hand, I think I have him a headache on the 18th, which is good.”
That’s the Spaniard’s way of saying he made Woods sweat down to the last putt in a back-and-forth match.
G. Fdez-Castano birdied the first two holes and went 2 up. Woods won the fifth with a par and Nos. 7-8 with birdies, the first from 53 feet, to go 1 up. He was in position to go 2 up at nine, when the Spaniard skulled a chip, but halved after three-putting.
Woods used to step on opponents in those situations. Instead he retreated. His double bogey-bogey start on the back dropped him to 1 down. And then G. Fdez-Castano missed a 7-foot birdie putt at 13 that would have put him 2 up.
That might have been the key to the match. The miss gave Woods more hope, and he capitalized. He drove the green at the 345-yard 15th and won with birdie when the Spaniard missed from 9 feet. And he won the 207-yard next when his opponent missed a 6-foot par putt after a hook left.
After Woods missed a 10-foot putt to end the match at 17, Fernandez-Castano made things interesting when he hit a terrific approach shot to 10 feet at the 480-yard last. But he missed the putt and Woods holed a 9-footer to convert a nifty bunker save and prevent extra holes.
“It’s a shame the putt didn’t go in because I hit it where I wanted to and how I wanted,” the loser said of his birdie attempt.
As for Woods, he knew he escaped with substandard effort. He was talking about his messy match and not match play in particular when he said, “It was just kind of survival.”