Brian Keogh in Tucson
England’s Justin Rose drew first blood in the third round of the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship with an ultimately facile victory over Charles Howell in chilly conditions at The Gallery Golf Club in Tucson.
As Padraig Harrington punished himself for his second round loss to Stewart Cink with a lengthy session on the range, Rose dispatched last week’s Nissan Open winner 3 and 2 on a day of leaden skies and high winds.
Five up at the turn, Rose maintained that advantage with five to play before Howell gave him a fright by winning three holes in a row and then firing his tee shot to just eight feet at the par three 16th.
But the former Walker Cup star proved equal to the task and triumphantly holed a 15 footer to close out the match and secure a quarter-final showdown with Ian Poulter or Trevor Immelman.
“Today was just a complete contrast to how it was yesterday,” said a relieved Rose. “It was really tough out there, especially starting out, where there were five or six really tough holes straight into the wind.
“I realised on the front nine that par was going to be a really good score because it was much tougher out there today.
“I felt a little uncomfortable with the putter and it was nice to knock one in there at the 16th when I had to because I didn’t fancy going down the 17th with Charles a little longer than me and where he could maybe take advantage of his length.”
Rose will ace South African Trevor Immelman in this morning’s quarter-finals, following his 2 and 1 victory over England’s Ian Poulter.
Poulter was two down after just four holes and while he eagle the 10th to get back to one down, he never managed to get back to all square with the South African closing out the match with a winning birdie at the 17th.
The big protagonist of the day was the weather.
From a high of 26 degrees celsius on Thursday afternoon, temperatures plummeted to a chilly 14 degrees yesterday, though it felt much colder as a stiff 25 mph west wind whipped down from the Tucson Mountains.
And while the decidedly un-Arizona like conditions did not sit well with Augusta native Howell, it was no different for tournament favourite Tiger Woods in his clash with Australian left-hander Nick O’Hern.
O’Hern famously beat Woods 3 and 1 in the second round of this event at La Costa in 2005 and while he has since risen to 16th in the world rankings, he has only managed to win one tournament.
But that hardly seemed to matter as he contrived to go three up after six holes, playing them in a scarcely believable two over par to Woods’ four over.
Woods set the tone when he pushed his opening tee shot well right of the fairway and then fell behind for the first time at the fourth, where he pushed his drive into the lake to run up a double bogey six.
O'Hern turned the screw by draining a right-to-left breaking 15-footer for a winning birdie at the par-five fifth.
But worse was to follow for Woods at the sixth, where he carved another missile behind a cactus and finished with another double bogey to go three down.
He followed that with another wayward tee shot into a bush at the seventh, blasting his next shot over the green into a patch of cactus with O'Hern less than two feet away in two.
Four down now, Woods stormed back into the fray with a two at the eighth, draining a 16 footer to reduce the deficit to three holes.
O’Hern has never been the most impressive of players under pressure and he was soon feeling the squeeze as Woods reeled off three consecutive birdies to reduce the gap to the minimum with five to play.
The first blow came at the 533 yard 10th, where O’Hern hit a glorious fairway wood to 23 feet only to see Woods reduce the hole to a three wood and a five iron, his ball nestling 12 feet from the pin.
Both men failed with their eagle putts but the die had been cast and Woods immediately sensed a weakness in his opponent and went for the jugular.
A wedge to 15 feet at the 11th set up another birdie and he followed that with a brilliant pitch and putt birdie from 30 yards at the driveable 12th, where O’Hern nervously left his 20 foot birdie effort six feet short.
The winner of the O’Hern-Woods clash will face the winner of the match between Swede Henrik Stenson and Aaron Baddeley and it was the European star who was in command in that one, going two up with a birdie at the 10th and retaining that advantage with six to play.