AUSTIN, Texas – The only score that mattered was the final score.
That was the exclamation point Tiger Woods made in describing his opening-round meeting with Aaron Wise on Wednesday in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. While Woods was playing the event for the first time since 2013, he hadn’t forgotten that the essence of match play is to beat your opponent by any means necessary, be it with excellent play or otherwise.
“I broke 80,” Woods said with a big smile after defeating Wise, 3 and 1, in and up-and-down affair over the elevation-fueled Austin Country Club. Both players admitted they’ve had better days on the golf course, but each hole remained a tournament on its own and tension accompanied the two through 17 holes.
“It wasn’t exactly the best of golf out there from both of us,” said Woods, a three-time winner of this event who captured his record 34th match victory. “We gave a few holes away with bogeys and three-putts, and we won a few holes with some good birdies. It was an emotional round because there weren’t a lot of halved holes.
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“It’s one of those weird matches.”
Among the other 32 matches, world No. 3 Brooks Koepka, who won last year’s U.S. Open and PGA Championship, tied Tom Lewis. World No. 4 Rory McIlroy, who won The Players in his last start, rolled to a 5-and-4 win against Luke List.
World No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau defeated Russell Knox, 3 and 1. World No. 7 and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari, who won three weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, beat Satoshi Kodaira, 5 and 4. Paul Casey, who won last week’s Valspar Championship, made quick work of Abraham Ancer in a 5-and-3 victory.
Lucas Bjerregaard delivered the day’s biggest upset, as the No. 50 seed toppled world No. 5 Justin Thomas, 3 and 2. And Phil Mickelson, who won earlier this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am but missed his last two cuts, lost to Henrik Stenson, 2 and 1, in a rematch of their 2016 final-round battle in the British Open.
For the record, six of the 17 holes in the Woods-Wise match were halved. The tone for the match was set on the first hole as Woods went 1 up with a bogey. He went 2 up with a par on the second hole, lost the third to a par and won the fourth with a par.
Wise, the 2018 PGA Tour rookie of the year and, like Woods, a former NCAA individual champion, won three consecutive holes starting at the eighth to go 1 up. And then Wise three-putted the 11th to give the hole to Woods.
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Woods went 1 up with a par on the 13th when Wise spun his approach back into the water, then 2 up on the 15th when Wise missed a short par putt. He closed out the match on the 17th when Wise three-putted from long distance.
“The way we were playing today, we’re very thankful it’s not stroke play,” Woods said. “I was just trying to beat the guy in front of me. It was tough out there. It was tricky, and the wind was blowing all over the place.
“I drove it well and I felt like I putted well. I was hitting my irons flush and hitting through the wind, and Joey (LaCava, his caddie) says it’s a nice problem to have. But I said this is not the time to be encouraging me like this right now, I just hit it over the back of three greens in a row.
“I probably have to dial that down a little bit and figure that out.”
It was the first time Wise, the youngest player at 22 in the tournament, played with Woods. He was disappointed he didn’t put on a better show, but he gained valuable experience.
“It’s Tiger, he’s awesome and he’s a good dude,” Wise said. “And I knew it was going to be a tough match today. I don’t think either of us played as good as we wanted to, but he played a little bit better than me and got the win.”
And that’s all that mattered.