Tiger Woods’s winless streak shows no sign of ending. He exited golf’s Match Play Championship in the opening round for the first time in nine years, to a player 62 places below him in the world rankings.
Woods yesterday conceded to Thomas Bjorn of Denmark after making a mess of the first extra hole of their match. Woods, who won the World Golf Championships event in 2003, 2004 and 2008, had to birdie No. 18 to keep the contest alive.
“I had all the momentum going down 18 and just gave it away,” Woods, one of four No. 1 seeds in the event, told reporters at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club’s Dove Mountain course in Marana, Arizona. “Very disappointing.”
World No. 3 Woods, who has won 14 major championships, has now played 15 tournaments over 10 months without a win, his worst streak since he turned professional in 1996.
His troubles began with what has become one of the most famous car-fire hydrant collisions in history. The incident, outside his Florida home in November 2009, led to the unraveling of his private life and the end of his record five-year reign atop the Official World Golf Ranking.
During a five-month self-imposed hiatus from the sport, Woods lost sponsors, his swing coach Hank Haney and his wife, who divorced him for repeated infidelity. He’s now working with a new coach, Sean Foley.
Woods, who got the last of his 71 wins on the U.S. PGA Tour at the BMW Championship in September 2009, said after his defeat yesterday that he didn’t know when he would next play. His website has no tournaments listed after the World Match Play.
The 35-year-old Woods, whose last win anywhere was at the Australian Masters in November 2009, fell behind to Bjorn with a bogey on the opening hole and lost the par-3 third hole when he hit his tee shot into a lake.
He trailed by two holes after the eighth before winning the next two to tie the match. He took the lead for the only time with a birdie at No. 11 before Bjorn tied it with a birdie two holes later.
The Dane -- best known for blowing a three-shot lead with as many holes to play at the 2003 British Open -- birdied the 15th hole to again move into the lead, where he remained until No. 18, when Woods sank a putt from about eight feet for birdie to stay alive in the match.
The revival didn’t last. Woods’s next drive settled among desert rocks and scrub. He failed to get his ball back on the fairway with his second shot and then chipped back onto the turf before finding the green in four, two more shots than Bjorn. Woods conceded the match after missing the putt.
“The fairway is, what, 200 yards wide, and I can’t put the ball in the fairway,” said Woods, whose only prior loss in the first round of the tournament was a 2-and-1 defeat to Peter O’Malley of Australia in 2002.
Bjorn declined to reveal what he said to Woods as they shook hands after the match.
“But what I will say is that the game of golf needs him back at his best,” Bjorn said. “I want to see him back at his best because I think it’s much more fun to go up against him when he’s absolutely at his peak.”
Bjorn’s win may be bad news for broadcaster NBC, which is scheduled to televise the final two days of the tournament. When Woods last year skipped the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, California, CBS’s final-round ratings slumped 52 percent.
In his last tournament appearance 11 days ago, Woods shot a 3-over 75 in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic to finish in a tie for 20th place. It was his worst performance in six appearances at the event, which he won in 2006 and 2008.
Woods opened his season in January by tying for 44th at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a course where he’d won on his previous five visits.
The 40-year-old Bjorn, who won his 11th European Tour title at this month’s Qatar Masters, today will play Geoff Ogilvy, a two-time Match Play champion from Australia, who beat Ireland’s Padraig Harrington 4-and-3.
Also yesterday, defending champion Ian Poulter of England lost in 19 holes to 2009 British Open champion Stewart Cink of the U.S.
In another upset, 17-year-old Matteo Manassero of Italy, the youngest player ever in the event, beat world No. 8 Steve Stricker 2-and-1. Stricker, an American, was the last defending champion before Poulter to lose in the opening round, in 2002.