TUCSON, February 25 – It's win or go home on Wednesday when the world's best golfers – led by Tiger Woods – tackle each other in the WGC Accenture match Play Championship.
Woods has chosen the elite event, the first in the World Golf Championships calendar, to make his return from an eight-month absence in the wake of reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
As Woods himself noted, the match play format is fickle. A player can get away with a poor hole, or even an off day, if his opposition struggles even more.
Conversely, a good round can come to nothing if an opponent plays even better, and the knockout format means that half of the 64-strong field will be eliminated on the first day.
"You have to be on your game right away. It’s not like you can build into it," said Woods, a three-time titlist who lost in the first round in 2002.
"You can go out there and shoot four, five, six, seven-under par and still go home, so you have to make sure that you bring the intensity and bring your game from the very first hole. Because if you don’t then you’ll be going home."
Woods, a 14-time major champion, will launch his comeback against unheralded Australian Brendan Jones.
Spain’s Sergio Garcia, seeded second in the tournament behind Woods, opens against South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel.
Garcia seized the world No.2 ranking with his win in the HSBC Champions tournament last November, but despite solid showings in three Middle Eastern European Tour events this year he wasn’t able to topple Woods.
"I needed to do something very, very extraordinary and unfortunately I didn’t," Garcia said of what it would have taken to supplant Woods atop the rankings.
"And now he’s back. So we’re all looking forward to seeing how he’s feeling and seeing how his game is going."
Garcia said the fanfare that has accompanied Woods’s return was justified.
"We all know how good he is. We all know what he means to the game," he said. "It’s going to be exciting to see him back."
Phil Mickelson was also pleased to see the increased interest his old rival brings to the game, evident in the crowd that turned out on Tuesday morning just to see Woods practice.
"As I’m walking to the range I’ve never seen so many cameras and photograhers and so forth, especially that early in the morning, waiting for Tiger to get there," Mickelson said.
"It’s amazing to me what he has done for our sport. And for us to have the most recognizable athlete in the world playing our sport is so fortunate for all of us, and we’ve all been able to benefit from it.
"To have him back is awesome."
Mickelson will be trying to improve on an unspectacular record in the Match Play event.
"I’ve played well a couple of times and lost some matches on the last holes," said the Californian, who will take on Argentina’s Angel Cabrera in the first round.
"There are times I’ve headed into this event playing some of my best golf and just couldn’t pull through. I’m going to need a little bit of luck.
"Over six rounds, nobody is going to play their best golf, you do need a little bit of a break when you don’t have your best stuff."
The par-72, 7,849 Dove Mountain course is hosting the tournament for the first time, and players said the sloping greens would pose a challenge.
"It’s just one of those golf courses that because of the undulations of the greens you’ll always have doubt in your mind in the approach shots," said Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who won the British Open and PGA Championship last year to take his tally of major titles to three.
"Middle of the green sometimes is worse than missing the green. You’re just going to have to keep firing at the flags, which is good for match play."