Henrik Stenson: "Beat or get beaten"
MARANA, Ariz. -- A stomach virus is probably not the best of all possible preparations for a title defense but Henrik Stenson seems to be making the best of it anyway. "I was sick as a dog," said the defending champion at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship of his condition the week before the event.
"The first week I had a cold so I took it fairly easy. Then, the second week when I was going start practice and we were going to travel over here, I picked up a stomach virus and was as sick as I have ever been," Stenson said. "I've been to Morocco. I've been a few places. I've had a few bugs in the past. It was pretty brutal."
Instead of getting to his Orlando digs on Wednesday the week before the Match Play, Stenson couldn't make the trip until Friday. It was on to Tucson on Sunday. The day before the matches began was his first day of practice in two weeks. "I like match play," said Stenson, which is a good thing because every match he's had so far has gone to the 18th hole or beyond. "The task at hand is very clear. You either beat or get beaten. You need to do better than the guy you're playing. It's the simplicity of it."
Stenson, who already has a pair of good finishes in the desert this year with seconds in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, nicked Robert Allenby 1 up in the first round, then went 25 holes against Trevor Immelman in his second match before beating Jonathan Byrd 1 up to reach the final eight.
"Trevor had a few 15, 20-footers yesterday to put me out of the tournament and, fortunately for me, he didn't make any of those," said the 31-year-old Swede, who finally ended the tussle when he got up and down from the greenside bunker on the drivable par four seventh. Against Allenby, Stenson had to pitch out of trouble on the last, then stiffed a 7-iron to save par and close out the match against the Australian.
Byrd had the easiest opening matches of anyone (outside of Aaron Baddeley, who was conceded his second match when David Toms pulled out with back problems) easily defeating Ernie Els and Andres Romero, neither of whom shot under par, but he had his hands full with Stenson. Byrd made four birdies on the front nine to Stenson's two birdies and eagle. On the back nine Byrd was unable to match Stenson's birdie on the 17th when the Swede reached the 601-yard uphill par 5 in two shots and two putted from 27 feet.
Stenson draws Woody Austin next. "The first time I played with him was at the Wentworth Match Play in October last year and we had a good, tight match," Stenson said. "We had to suspend due to darkness and then come back the next morning and I just managed to make a birdie on 18 to win that one, so I'm sure he wants to make it one-all rather than two-nothing. He's a tough competitor and there are not too many lakes for him to fall into here, either."
-- Jim Moriarty