MARANA, Ariz., Feb. 20 -- The venue has moved from a posh Southern California resort to a moonscape desert facility inside a gated Arizona housing development, but the constant remains at the top. Once again, Tiger Woods is the No. 1 seed in the 64-player World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship being staged here, 25 miles from Tucson on a relatively new course few in the field had ever seen or played before arriving for practice rounds this week.
Woods will be going after his eighth straight victory on the PGA Tour in his quest to match Byron Nelson's remarkable run of 11 straight in 1945, a year when he also won 18 times. But Woods has played down his streak, second longest in tour history, mainly because he's played in other events in Europe and Asia over the same time frame and did not win in between his tour victories.
"It's a tour streak," Woods said Tuesday at the Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain. "I lost in the [HSBC] Match Play [in England], lost at the Ryder Cup, lost in China, lost in Japan. I've done a lot of losing, too. It is what it is. I mean, you go out there and you play and try to get a W. If you don't, you don't. If you do, you do."
Woods has won this event twice (2003 and 2004) in seven appearances and finished second to his friend, Darren Clarke, in 2000. A year ago, he posted the most lopsided victory in tournament history, 9 and 8 over Stephen Ames in the opening round, but was eliminated by Chad Campbell in the third round, 1 up.
On Wednesday, he will face his American Ryder Cup teammate, J.J. Henry, who became the last-minute No. 64 seed when South African Charl Schwartzel withdrew over the weekend. Henry has one PGA Tour victory -- the 2006 Buick Invitational -- and has had a spotty start to his 2007 season, but both he and Woods know that anything can happen in a match-play format.
Woods was asked Tuesday if keeping his sort-of streak alive was more difficult in match play or stroke play, and whether he was even thinking about the streak the day before the event begins.
"Not much at all," he said. "Just trying to think about getting past J.J. I think it's always tougher to continue at match play because all it takes is one hot guy.
"In stroke play, it takes four consistent rounds, solid rounds, and you can have an off day and still win the golf tournament. But here on your off day, you could be going home pretty early, or you could have a wonderful round of golf and still be going home. That's the unpredictability of it, and that's also one of the reasons why all of us loved it as amateur golfers. We loved playing these events."
Henry said he also was looking forward to his first-round match and insisted he would not be intimidated.
"We all know how good Tiger is, but I don't feel there's an intimidation factor," he said. "If there is an event that might be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, this might be it.
"He's got to go through six matches to win this, and I'm one of them. My game is suited to match play. I can get hot and make a lot of birdies, and I can beat anyone.
"They played [at] La Costa for years, and Tiger probably knows it like the back of his hand. Having it at a new venue is a huge bonus for myself. We're all on an equal slate here."
A year ago, Ames, also the 64th seed, seemed to bring out the best in Woods when he said before their opening-round match that he wasn't worried because Woods wasn't driving the ball very well at the time. Woods made it known afterward he didn't particularly appreciate the remarks. But if Henry was at all concerned about providing Woods more bulletin board fodder, it hardly showed.
"I've always respected Tiger, on and off the course," he said. "Now, all of a sudden I get to play on a big stage, play Tiger, the best player in the world. I'm extremely excited. It's a win-win situation. . . . Three weeks after [losing to Woods at La Costa], Stephen Ames won the Players Championship. If I could win that, I'd take getting beat 9 and 8."
Notes:Woods and Phil Mickelson, who has finished first and second in his last two tournaments after losing in a playoff Sunday at the Nissan Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif., are on the same side of the bracket. If they meet here, it would be in the semifinals Saturday. . . . After struggling to attract fans in recent years at La Costa, tournament organizers said they have sold out all five days of the tournament. . . . Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, has a tough opening-round match against American Steve Stricker.