Sunday, February 29, 2004

Woods vs. Love in Match Play final

Americans win semifinal matches over Leaney and Clarke

The Associated Press

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Davis Love III survived an exhausting day of clutch shots and stunning conclusions Saturday, beating Darren Clarke in 21 holes to reach the finals of the Match Play Championship and earn another crack at Tiger Woods.

Woods won his 11th consecutive match with no shortage of drama, making birdies on his final two holes to finally put away pesky Stephen Leaney of Australia 2 and 1 and reach the finals for the third time in five tries. But the day belonged to Love.

First, he watch Phil Mickelson gamble away his chances by trying to go for the par-5 18th green in two with the match tied. Lefty missed by 50 yards and wound up with a bogey, allowing Love to advance.

Then, Love rallied from 2 down with two holes to play against Clarke. After winning the 17th with a par, he took the same risk as Mickelson - a 3-wood from 271 yards - and it paid off, setting up a two-putt birdie to force extra holes.

Love won on the third playoff hole, the par-3 16th, where earlier his three-putt nearly cost him the match. He stuffed it into 10 feet and made the putt.

It took six years, but the Accenture Match Play Championship finally got the 36-hole final everyone wanted. Woods (No. 1) and Love (No. 3) are the highest two seeds to play for the $1.2 million prize.

"It's like Duke in the East," said Love, a former North Carolina Tar Heel. "You know you're going to play them in the final game."

Woods, who earlier beat Padraig Harrington, goes into the final match having gone 64 holes without trailing. The last time he faced a deficit was on the 16th hole of his opening match against John Rollins. He was one swing away from going home Wednesday.

Now, Woods faces a player with 18 victories, including a major, but a player he has routinely beaten in the past. He beat Love in the semifinals four years ago, 5 and 4.

"An unbelievable talent," Woods said of Love. "You step up there and you know you've got your hands full playing against someone like that."

Woods had his hands full with Leaney, the U.S. Open runner-up.

Leaney hung around long enough for the pressure to start building, and he caught Woods with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole that squared the match.

Under such pressure, though, Woods was at his best.

He got up-and-down for par from 90 yards on the 14th, making a 6-footer to avoid going 1 down. Then, he made a 4-foot par putt on the next hole to stay even.

His best putt was for birdie, a 12-footer on the 13th after Leaney hit a brilliant bunker shot for a conceded par. Woods' putt sneaked in the left side, and he raised his putter and twice pumped his fist, the most emotion he had shown all week.

"I knew if I could somehow bury that putt, I could grab the momentum back," Woods said. "On top of that, it would give me a little bit of cushion with two holes to go."

He closed him out on the next hole when Leaney hit into the left bunker and blasted out to 15 feet. Woods hit a 7-iron 4 feet behind the hole and stopped 12 feet away. He made that for a 2-and-1 win.

CHRYSLER OF TUCSON: Aaron Baddeley shot his way into a share of the third-round lead at the PGA Tour event with an 8-under 64. He and Heath Slocum took different routes to reach 15-under 201.

ANZ LADIES MASTERS: Annika Sorenstam birdied six of the first nine holes in shooting a 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead after three rounds at Gold Coast, Australia.

NATIONWIDE TOUR: Peter Senior shot a 3-under 69 to move up 37 spots into a first-place tie with American Bill Lunde, who had a 73, after the third round of the New Zealand PGAChampionship in Christchurch.

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