MARANA, Ariz., Feb. 22 -- When Englishman Justin Rose drove his tee shot into the desert on the 435-yard 15th hole Thursday, then had to punch out 15 yards backward into the fairway to avoid making contact with all manner of nasty, thorny impediments, Phil Mickelson admitted he was thinking he had a fine chance to win the hole and square the match with three to play in the second round of the World Match Play Championship.
Instead, Rose knocked his third shot on the green and made a tricky 30-foot putt to save a remarkable par to maintain a 1-up lead en route to a 3-and-1 victory over the No. 3 player in the world rankings.
Tiger Woods, the top-seeded player in the field, advanced to the round of 16 at the Gallery Club at Dove Mountain with a 5-and-4 triumph over South African Tim Clark, who found himself 5 down after six holes, courtesy of four birdies by Woods and a conceded par over that stretch.
Clark has been resting a sore neck in recent weeks and never had a chance this sparkling day in the Tucson suburbs. Woods had seven birdies on his card, and said he went into the match knowing that an early blitz likely would demoralize his still slightly injured and rusty foe.
"I put a lot of pressure on Timmy," Woods said. "I know he's struggling right now, he's still a little bit hurt. But I just wanted to put as much pressure as I possibly could on him and not give him any holes with bogeys. I did that today. I made a few putts, which was nice, and Tim made a couple of mistakes, and basically I ended up having a pretty good-sized lead early in the match."
Woods will next face Australian Nick O'Hern, who announced his presence as a world-class player two years ago in this same event. In the 2005 tournament, played at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., O'Hern eliminated Woods (3 and 1) in the second round, ending the possibility of Woods winning the tournament for a third straight year.
"I'm sure he'll obviously take positive vibes from what he did the last time we played," Woods said of O'Hern, who defeated Rory Sabbatini, 2 and 1.
"But the whole idea is you've still got to play well. . . . Nick hits the ball very straight, and he's got a great short game. With weather coming in [Friday], you're going to have to hit the ball well and even some good shots you're probably going to have to get up and down."
The weather -- 75 degrees and brilliant sun on Thursday -- is expected to change dramatically, with temperatures in the high 50s and wind and rain in the Friday forecast. But given the way Woods is playing now, it's hard to imagine any hurdle he can't overcome.
"I've never played a match play event where all six rounds I've played great golf," he said. "You're going to have one or two rounds where you're not going to play well. You've just got to get through those matches. To win a championship, you're going to have that one match, and you've got to somehow find a way to get it done."
Mickelson was unable to accomplish that feat Thursday, nor were several other of the higher seeds in the tournament. Six players in the top 10 in the world rankings lost this day, including No. 2 Jim Furyk, eliminated on the first extra hole when Chad Campbell made a 10-foot putt to win their match. Campbell had eight birdies, including three straight on the final holes of regulation to recover from a 2-down deficit with two to play.
Retief Goosen of South Africa, No. 6 in the rankings, was ousted by Sweden's Niclas Fasth (1 up); No. 7 Vijay Singh of Fiji missed an eight-foot putt on the first extra hole and lost to Stephen Ames of Trinidad and Tobago (1 up); No. 9 Luke Donald of England hit the road courtesy of Australian Aaron Baddeley (1 up); and Ireland's Padraig Harrington, No. 10, lost to Stewart Cink (1 up). Just for good measure, No. 12 Sergio Garcia was pounded by the PGA Tour's hottest player, Charles Howell III, 4 and 3.
Howell, who won last week in a playoff against Mickelson at the Nissan Open in Los Angeles, will play Rose in the round of 16 on Friday. The two are good friends and Orlando neighbors and Rose described Howell as "the best player in the world right now other than Tiger. It's going to be a tough game, like today, where you've got to go out there and expect to make birdies."
Rose didn't know what to expect at the 15th hole on Wednesday, especially after his tee shot went left into a dicey desert lie, leaving him with only one option -- smack it backward and get onto some green grass. His 8-iron third shot was not particularly well struck, but Mickelson's wedge approach wasn't much better, and Howell said he got a decent read on Mickelson's missed 35-foot birdie putt attempt before he sank his own .
"That was the first putt I've made in two days of any distance," Rose said. "I've been struggling with my putter lately, but it began to feel good on the back nine, which is something I'm excited about going into the rest of the week."
Mickelson hardly seemed fazed by the loss, marking his earliest exit from the tournament since he lost in the first round to John Cook in 2002.
"I don't feel like I played poorly," he said.
"I made six birdies and he played some good golf. Fifteen was the big turning point, obviously. It looked like all I had to do was make par and the match would be even. That hurt the most."