AUSTIN, Texas — Tiger Woods wasn’t thrilled with his golf, saying his stroke-play score would have “broke 80” at Austin Country Club on Wednesday.
It wasn’t nearly that bad, but it still wasn’t easy for Woods, who prevailed 3 and 1 over Aaron Wise in the first day of pool play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship.
“There’s no scorecard except for whether you won the match or not,” said Woods, who plays Brandt Snedeker on Thursday in the second of three pool-play matches. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact it’s this round-robin thing. I thought it was win or go home. But we’re still here for a couple more days.”
For the first time since 2013, Tiger Woods is competing in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship — and welcomes a new format that allows him to “focus on one guy.”
After a week off, Tiger is back at what will likely be his final start before the Masters. We track him each stop at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and all the steps leading to this point.
Woods, who has won the Match Play three times and a total of 18 World Golf Championship titles, has not played it since 2013, when the format was single elimination. That changed in 2015, and Woods has not been eligible for the event in the past four years as he dealt with injuries and a ranking that kept him out of the top 64 in the world.
He nonetheless improved his tournament-best record in the event 34-10, closing out the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year on the 17th hole when Wise three-putted to lose the hole.
Woods was 2 up early in the round as Wise was jittery from the start, gave back a hole with a bogey at the third hole, and was again 2 up through eight holes when Wise won three straight to take a 1-up lead.
And it looked like Woods would go down two holes at the par-3 11th, but he made a 10-footer for par to salvage a tie. Both players birdied the 12th, but Woods got a break when Wise found the water with his approach at the short par-4 13th.
“It wasn’t exactly the best golf out there from both of us,” said Woods, who made four birdies and four bogeys through the 17 holes. “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.
“I was up, the next thing I’m down in the match. Looked like I was about ready to go 2 down through 11, all of a sudden I’m all square. I’m up and then I throw away a hole with a three-putt. It’s one of those weird matches.”
That is the nature of match play. Snedeker was 3 up through 11 holes against Patrick Cantlay and lost four straight to go 1 down, only to win the 18th with a birdie and salvage a tie.
Snedeker, a PGA Tour veteran with nine victories, has played with Woods in PGA Tour rounds 13 times in their careers but never bested him. Woods has had the better score 12 times and tied Snedeker once. Cantlay will play Wise on Thursday and Woods on Saturday.
The player with the best record in the group after Friday advances to the final 16, where knockout matches begin Saturday morning.
If players are tied through Friday, regardless of head-to-head matches, they will have a hole-by-hole playoff to determine who advances.
Wise, who won the NCAA individual title at Oregon 20 years after Woods did it in 1996 at Stanford, lamented a poor start and an approach at 13 that seemed to turn the match.
“I really respect what he’s done in the game, and it was pretty cool to be able to watch him compete today and be alongside him,” said Wise, who had never played with Woods previously. “It was pretty fun to get in his group and compete against him.”
Perhaps the biggest upset of the day belonged to Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard, who whipped fifth-ranked Justin Thomas 3 and 2.
England’s Tom Lewis managed a tie against third-ranked Brooks Koepka.
And No. 52 Jim Furyk rallied from 3 down to defeat two-time Match Play champion Jason Day 2 up.
“I guess my attitude has been really good,” said Furyk, 48, who finished second to Rory McIlroy two weeks ago at the Players Championship and is in position to qualify for the Masters with another match victory over the next two days. “Even when I was 3 down, you can start to feel like you can’t make a mistake, and that feeling is very binding. It’s tough to hit good shots at that point.
“I didn’t think I was going to be playing in this event and I’m standing on the 15th tee all square, kind of pinching myself. Here I am playing Jason Day at the World Golf match play, and I wasn’t supposed to be here. So I tried to enjoy the fact that I put myself back in position.”
In the four previous years of the pool play format, advancing after a first-day loss has proven difficult. Only eight players have done so out of 111 matches, and none of those players made the finals. Twice, players advanced with 1-0-2 records.
“Just advance,” said Woods, still stuck on the old terminology; he would be playing on regardless. “Just beat the guy in front of me. If it was a stroke-play event, we’d both be pretty far behind the leaders. But it was just beat the guy that’s right in front of you. And I was able to do that.”