Tiger sent packing at Match Play, still searching for his swing

| February 24, 2011
Tiger Woods claws through the brush after shanking the ball at the Match Play Championship on Wednesday. (AP) - TIGER WOODS CLAWS THROUGH THE BRUSH AFTER SHANKING THE BALL AT THE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP ON WEDNESDAY. (AP)
  • Tiger Woods claws through the brush after shanking the ball at the Match Play Championship on Wednesday. (AP)
  • Tiger Woods claws through the brush after shanking the ball at the Match Play Championship on Wednesday. (AP)

They’ve got an airport up Interstate 10 used as a parking lot for dozens of obsolete jets. This is a region for retirement, the Arizona desert, planes and people, a place to reflect on what used to be.

Such as Tiger Woods’ golf game.

He keeps saying he’s getting close, keeps believing he’s about to wake up the echoes. “My game is progressing,” he said Tuesday. “And it feels like we’re heading in the right direction.”

Where he was headed Wednesday was home, out of the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play tournament.

Where he was headed was toward another disappointment.

Tiger, still No. 3 in the world ranking, although having done nothing the past year, was beaten by Thomas Bjorn 1 up on the 19th hole in the opening round.

Beaten by Bjorn, the Dane with the brother who lives in Oakland. Beaten by Bjorn, 65th in the rankings.

Three tournaments in 2011 for Tiger: a tie for 44th in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, 20th in Dubai a week and a half ago and now an exit on the first day of the Match Play.

After tying the match with a birdie at 18, Tiger’s drive on the first extra hole went into the wasteland of Saguaro cacti, jumping Cholla, mesquite bushes and other unfriendly flora.

It took Woods three to get out of the junk and four to reach the green of a par-four hole. He two-putted for a double-bogey and conceded Bjorn’s bogey.

Asked where he was in the process of conquering his new swing, Woods answered with a single word beginning with the letter “P.”

Tiger had lost in the first round of this tournament before, in 2002 to Peter O’Malley, but he also had won the event on three occasions. Times are different now. Woods, after his scandal, divorce and swing change, is attempting not to be mothballed like an inefficient plane.

“I think he just needs a win; I don’t care if it’s the Hershey Bar Open,” Johnny Miller said of Woods. The San Francisco-born Miller, a one-time U.S. Open winner, will be announcing the Accenture on the weekend for NBC. “He needs to go out and get his game together, dominate, keep it [in] play.”

Exactly what he didn’t do on the extra hole.

The Accenture is being played at the Ritz-Carlton Club on Dove Mountain, in the rocky foothills some 20 miles north of Tucson. It’s a resort. Not the last resort for Tiger, but you’re starting to wonder when he’s going to get it back.

“I got a better understanding of my swing,” Woods said Tuesday. “Now I just need to keep working on and heading down this path.”

The path he headed down was to a shuttle van. Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer each won their opening match, but Tiger Woods did not.

The kid from Stanford still is searching.

“I know what it takes to get it done,” he said. “But incorporating new movement patterns takes time. I’m in a different mold, different pattern, but the more balls I hit, hundreds, thousands, those movement patterns become natural.”

He’s got the idea. What he doesn’t have is the swing.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.