|Clarke Outputts, Outplays Tiger, Wins the Million|
|by Martin Olivera|
After his win against Duval in yesterday's semifinal Clarke said
of playing 36 holes each day over the weekend: "I don't know how I'm
going to cope tomorrow. I've got to play very well. Over a 36-hole
match, you're more likely to get (that) the best player will win.
And if you look at the rankings, Tiger is #1 and I'm #19. So I'd say
his chances would be increased over 36 holes. That's the way it should
work". Should it? Well, it didn't. With nearly flawless driving all
day, and a hot putter in the afternoon, Darren Clarke from Northern
Ireland managed to beat the number one player in the world, Tiger
Woods, to claim the one million dollar first prize of the Andersen
Consulting World Match Play Championship. The #19-ranked player
gave a clinic on consistency and patience all week,
disposing along the way of higher seeded players like #11 Hal Sutton
(1-up), and #2 David Duval (4&2). "To come over here and play as well
as I have done in match play is fantastic. To play as solid as I did
today against Tiger, the best player in the world, it's a great feeling
at the moment", said Clarke.
Per his own recognition, one of Darren Clarke's strengths is his driver and his weakness probably his short irons. Throughout today's match, at least, Clarke showed how strong his driving game is, consistently placing the ball on the fairways (missed only one all day). And because he is a shorter hitter than Woods, he was hitting onto the green first in most of the holes. "Tiger's length was to my benefit this week", said Clarke. "It gave me an opportunity to be hitting into the greens first on the par-4's. And because my iron play was so strong, I was hitting the ball close. That resulted in pressure on Tiger to get inside or as close", he added.
Tiger likes 36-hole matches. His record in match play over these many holes is now 6-2 (3-2 as a professional). "If you get to a bad start you can always make it up (over 36 holes). The best player that day is going to win the match. In 18 holes the best player doesn't necessary win", said Woods. Or like in the case of Darren Clarke, if you forget your putter early in the match, you can always find it by the afternoon. "Not at all. Darren has played like this all week; he's played beautifully", said Woods when asked if he was surprised by Clarke's performance. "He hit a lot of solid shots all week and putted well. That's a hard combination to beat if you are not playing well. He just flat out outplayed me.", Woods added. His brilliant game of yesterday when he beat Davis Love III just wasn't there. "I just couldn't quite hit the shots the way I wanted to. And I wasn't able to put a lot of pressure on him", concluded Woods.
Both players traded pars and birdies on the first two holes of the day. Woods drew first blood with a birdie on the par-3 #3 when his one-foot putt was conceded by Clarke, who tried to hole his bunker shot from the right, back bunker in his attempt for a halve. Clarke came right back with a birdie from five feet on #4, and then he and Woods bogeyed #5. The European player went to 1-up when he chipped in from a buried lie 12 feet to the right of the hole on #6. And Woods responded with a great shot on the scenic par-3 #7 to five feet, which he converted for birdie. The 8th hole was halved with birdies, Woods sinking an 18-foot putt first, and Clarke responding with his own five footer, thus keeping the match all-square. On #9, Clarke left his 18-foot eagle putt inches short, after a booming 3-wood from the fairway, following Woods long 25-foot putt converted for birdie. Woods had left his second shot (3-wood from right rough) in the front, right bunker and blasted out short.
The back nine in the morning started with both players halving with pars #10 and #11, and with birdie #12. Both then proceeded to par their way in cautiously. Wood had the honors in every hole, hit it longer and on the fairway on every hole but the par-5 #12 (first cut). Clarke answered by placing every drive on the fairway, and was only in danger of losing a hole on #15, when he had to make a seven-foot putt to save par for a halve. And he did. Clarke missed a slippery five-foot putt on #18 that would have put him ahead by one hole. But as it was, Woods and Clarke ended the morning the same way as they started, all-square. Woods making six birdies and two bogeys for a 68, and Clarke also making six birdies and a lone bogey for a 67. The match which had a turbulent start had remained all-square since the 8th hole.
The afternoon round featured pretty much the same tee-to-green script as in the morning, except, big "except", that Clarke brought his putter back into the game. On the front nine, the man from Northern Ireland only missed an eight-foot putt on #27 for birdie to halve the hole (Woods made a 2-putt birdie). Over that stretch of holes he birdied #19 (15 feet), #22 (conceded), #23 (eight feet), #25 (12 feet), and #26 (10 feet), thus going 3-up through nine holes without birdieing either par-5, as Woods did. But birdieing both par-5 is all Woods did over those nine holes, to go with a bogey on #22 as a result of flying the green from the fairway.
Woods started the back nine of the afternoon round with a three-putt bogey from 25 feet on #28, putting Clarke back at 4-up. But he then stiffed his tee shot to about a foot on the par-3 #29, conceded for a birdie, to cut Clarke's lead down to 3-up again. On the par-5 #30 it was, on paper, advantage Woods off the tee. Clarke laid up and wedged to 20 feet which resulted in an eventual two-putt par, whereas Woods went for the green with his second shot. His 3-wood shot landed on the right greenside bunker but, in what probably was the crucial shot of the match, he failed to clear the bunker with his sand shot. His second blast ended four feet by, but his putt for par lipped out, turning the hole into a reversal of fortune, putting the match back 4-up Clarke. Both players hitting fairway on #31, this time it was advantage Clarke, when his approach ended four feet to the left of the hole. Tiger's second was 20 feet away, but he sank the putt to make the hole interesting. Clarke duly responded with his putter again, making his birdie 3 to remain 4-up. With honors on the par-3 #32, Clarke put his tee shot in the front, right bunker while Woods hit the green, facing an 18-foot putt. Clarke blasted out to three feet. Woods two-putted for par. Clarke, once more, made his putt to halve the hole, standing 4-up with four holes to go. Woods's missed the fairway and Clarke didn't on #33. Clarke hit first, again, from 145 yards out and hit the green, again, right of the hole for a birdie opportunity. Woods flew the green from the fairway bunker, and his chip shot for birdie came up short. Clarke then needed two putts to win the championship. His attempt barely kissed the lower lip of the cup and stayed out. The next move was not a golf shot, it was a handshake and a hug from Tiger Woods, who conceded the tap-in for par, ending the match 4&3. In the afternoon round through 15 holes, Woods had made four birdies and three bogeys. In contrast, Clarke made no bogeys and six birdies, none of them on the par-5 holes. That pretty much tells the story.
This is Clarke's seventh professional career victory, and his first on American soil. The $1,000,000 check for first place is the largest in his 10-year career. He joins Jeff Maggert and Tiger Woods as winner of a World Golf Championship event. For Woods, this is his second "second" in three weeks in San Diego County (Buick Invitational).
In the match for 3rd and 4th ($100,000 difference), David Duval defeated Davis Love III 5&4 over 18 holes. Both players birdied the par-5 #2 and Love went 1-up when Duval bogeyed #6. But starting on #8 Duval mounted an offensive with six birdies in seven holes, and on the only hole he didn't birdie, #10, Love made bogey. They only halved #12 with birdies over that stretch of holes and the handshake took place on the 14th green. "I played very very well", said Duval. "Six under par through 14 holes is pretty good". He earned $400,000 for his 3rd place finish in the tournament. Love earned $300,000 for 4th place in a rather disappointing weekend. He lost to #1 seeded Woods yesterday and to #2 seeded Duval today. "I had a couple of chances early to make birdies on #1 and #4 and didn't do it. And then David started making putts", said #4 seeded Love.
The 2001 Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship will be held to Melbourne, Australia, January 3rd-7th. It will return to La Costa in 2002.