Tiger Woods' final Masters tune-up comes in Texas at this week's WGC-Match Play at Austin C.C. That the 43-year-old is in the field is something of a novelty; Woods—due to injury and a drop in world rankings—hasn't played in the event since 2013. Also surprising: though he's won Match Play three times in his career, Tiger's advanced out of the Sweet 16 just once since 2004.
Which brings up an interesting proposition for the week. One of the more competitive spirits the game has ever seen, Woods is not in the tournament simply for reps. Conversely, there is the potential for seven rounds in five days, a workload Woods—who has already dealt with a neck strain this winter—may be unable to bear at this stage of this career, and one that could have a detriment on his prospects at Augusta National and the rest of his season.
For his part, Woods doesn't seemed fazed by the task at hand.
"The end of last year gave me a lot of confidence that I played as many events as I did to end the season," Woods said on Tuesday. "I was fried, I was tired, but my body held up. So that's something that has been very good. My training has been pretty good. My neck has been feeling better, which is nice. And so I have to play well and beat the guy in front of me in order to have that situation where I'm there on Sunday in the finals. So there's a lot of work to be done between now and then."
To get to the weekend, Woods will first have to go through reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Wise. In the midst of a sophomore slump, the former NCAA champ from the University of Oregon has missed four of his last six cuts. Not exactly the ideal form for one making their first Match Play start, against one of the two greatest golfers of all-time, no less. The two tee off at 2:00 p.m. ET, and Golf Digest will be here to keep you up-to-date on the action from Austin.
(All times ET)
6:02 p.m.: That is Tiger's 34th WGC-Match Play win, most all-time. Tomorrow he'll face Brandt Snedeker (who is currently one down heading to the 17th) at 12:32 p.m. ET. Thanks for following along!
5:58 p.m.: Pretty good lag from Tiger from 43 feet, leaving four feet or so to the hole. Wise knocks his birdie putt four feet by, and is still away...and he misses it.
That will do it. Tiger Woods wins his first match since 2012, 3&1 over Aaron Wise.
5:53 p.m.: Woods finds the green on the par-3 17th, but nowhere near the pin's zip code. Wise's shot is a little better, but still won't have an easy birdie look by any means.
5:46 p.m.: Jon Rahm, who finished runner-up at this event two years ago, is now 6 Up with six to go. Poor Si Woo never had a shot.
Woods and Wise get up-and-down for birdie, and the move to the 17th with Woods still 2 Up.
5:40 p.m.: Tiger and Wise both find the fairway, although Woods' approach is complicated by a tree in the right rough. Is still able to scoot it right in front of the green. Wise, from 20 yards ahead, misses the green just to the right, barreling into the rough. Should be a good chance for an up-and-down bird to continue the match for Wise.
5:33 p.m.: Rory McIlroy makes quick work of Luke List, winning 5&4. Rory and Molinari received the two easiest "A" draws, and both made the most of their opportunities on Day 1.
5:28 p.m.: Wise has a nice approach from 40 yards, and Woods' birdie just skirts by. Woods is saved again, however, as Wise misses his save. Two up with three to play.
Ahead, Bjerregaard puts Justin Thomas out of his misery on the 16th hole, while Rory is now 4 Up on List. Dustin Johnson, who we've yet to see on TV, is 1 Up through seven.
5:25 p.m.: Wise's drive on the 15th finds the bunker, and chunks it out of the beach. Woods, on the left side of the fairway, puts a little jazz on his approach, checking it to 10 feet or so. Wise needs to hustle to keep this thing from going south.
5:20 p.m.: In one of the biggest upsets of the round, Furyk knocks out Jason Day for the win. Still a ways to go, but the start Furyk needed to keep his Masters hopes alive.
5:12 p.m.: Wise hacks it out of the fescue, coming to rest just short of the green. Woods doesn't scare the hole with his birdie, keeping Wise in the hole.
But Wise's save stays to the right, seemingly giving Tiger a 2-Up lead...but Woods lips out his putt. Uglier than a hungover camel.
5:05 p.m.: Tiger splits the fairway on the tough 14th hole. To his credit, Wise answers back with a rocket of his own. Right into the wind, Tiger's second from 180 yards hits the green but comes up well short of the pin. But, reverting back to his first hole ways, Wise bails him out, his approach sailing to the right and into fescue. Advantage, Big Cat.
5:00 p.m.: Woods blows his birdie by, but Wise can't save his par with a chip off the green. Woods, 1 Up.
The Furyk-Day match is on the 17th, with both players on the green but Fury decidedly closer to the pin. Elsewhere, Rory McIlroy is 3 Up thru 11 in his match against Luke List, while Justin Thomas is now 4 Down to Lucas Bjerregaard.
4:54 p.m.: Well that's a kick in the stomach for Wise. After laying up, the 22-year-old throws his second to the left of the pin, which you cannot do on the 13th. The ball spins back into the water, allowing Woods to put his shot safely to the right.
4:48 p.m.: Woods and Wise both choose to lay-up on the 277-yard par 4. Probably smart, given 10 mph wind in the face...but still, we'd be lying if a part of us didn't die watching Woods pull iron.
4:40 p.m.: Pretty good effort from Woods, leaving seven feet or so for birdie. Wise's chip isn't as good, but he sinks his putt from 15 feet.
Woods matches, however, marching after it for the last foot or so. All squared after 12 holes.
4:35 p.m.: Both Woods and Wise send their drives on the par-5 12th to the right, and are forced to lay up. Wise is slightly ahead of Tiger, but neither will be an easy go.
Elsewhere, Horschel yanks his drive left on the final hole, forcing a penalty drop. Spieth puts his pitch to tap-in range, giving Spieth the tie. Given his troubles today—for the year—it should be considered a win for the three-time major winner.
4:29 p.m.: Woods' second shot rolls 10 feet by the pin—really no chance to get it closer from where he was from—but converts the par. For his part, Wise's birdie putt darted to the left...as did his par attempt. We are back to all squared.
4:20 p.m.: An hour ago, Tiger was in control of this bad boy. Now he's close to legit danger. With Wise on the green, Tiger pulls his shot left, leaving an awkward second, and giving Wise a chance to win his fourth straight hole.
4:15 p.m.: Wise, from 109 yards in the 10th fairway, sticks his approach, leaving six feet or so for birdie. Woods is up ahead, with just 70 yards to the flag, makes a mess of it, throwing it 25 feet past the pin. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised: Woods ranks 195th from 50-75 yards this season.
It's a nice roll from Woods, but just stays to the left. Wise makes his third birdie in four holes, and is now 1 Up over Woods.
4:05 p.m.: Both Woods and Wise were one-over on the front. Not exactly a pillow fight...but not "30 for 30" material either.
4:01 p.m.: Woods misses his putt, while Wise buries his. Match is now all square heading to the back nine.
4:00 p.m.: Spieth has now dropped two straight holes to Horschel, including an ugly three-putt from 20 feet. Elsewhere, Lucas Bjerregaard is 2 Up on Justin Thomas, while Jim Furyk, once down three to Jason Day, has taken a 1 Up lead on the back nine.
3:57 p.m.: Wise turns the tables, hitting a sporty shot from the rough to 15 feet or so. Woods hits an odd knockdown that spurts to the left, and will leave Woods away.
3:52 p.m.: Woods' drive on the ninth finds the fairway and catches the down slope, running out 340 yards and leaving a nifty pitch. Wise one-arms a drive that sails to the left and stays in the rough.
3:45 p.m.: Cameras disappeared for 10 minutes, and suddenly Tiger's on the green putting for par from 25 feet. Okay, then.
The putt slides by, giving Woods a bogey. As for Wise, his approach safely found the green in regulation, his two-putt good enough for the win. Woods' advantage is down to 1.
3:35 p.m.: Tiger's drive heads into trouble to the right, but trees knock his ball down. May have to punch out, but at least it's in play.
3:28 p.m.: Oh boy. Woods chunks his chip, leaving him a ways from the hole.
Except he drops the 30-foot, winding putt for par. That sound you hear is Wise, who made a nice bunker shot to three feet or so, trying to get the dagger out of his back. Woods remains 2 Up.
3:21 p.m.: Woods' tee shot at the par-3 sixth goes long, LONG and left. But Tiger is somewhat bailed out, and Wise' tee shot finds the bunker to the right of the green.
Else, Henrik Stenson is 2 Up on Phil Mickelson after eight holes, Spieth and Horschel remained all square through 12 holes, and Justin Rose—who has struggled at this event—is 3 Up on Emiliano Grillo.
3:15 p.m.: Wise plays a nice pitch to five feet or so. Woods' eagle putt has enough juice, but doesn't turn as much as Woods believed. Wise, who has settled down after his stumble out of the gate, converts his birdie. No blood, no foul.
3:10 p.m.: After a 333-yard drive, Tiger goes with an iron from about 240 yards out. His shot takes a generous bounce to the right off a greenside hill, trickling about 25-30 feet from the hole. Though Wise is a bit further, his iron shot falls 20 yards short of the green. Advantage, Tiger.
3:05 p.m.: On Austin's first par 5, Woods breaks out the SmokeWagon and splits the fairway in two. Should have a go at the green.
3:02 p.m.: Paul Casey continues his hot play, dismissing Abraham Ancer 5&3. Casey is a two-time runner-up at this event and has to be viewed as a threat this weekend.
As for Woods, he converts the birdie putt to stay 2 Up thru five.
3:00 p.m.: On the short par-4 fifth, Woods finds the fairway, and from 80 yards or so, puts his approach to seven feet or so. Wise is not out, though, his drive just left of the green and a chance to get up-and-down for bird.
And he does, making a nifty chip to tap-in range. Work left for Woods to stay 2 Up.
2:52 p.m.: Woods' birdie dies an inch or two away from the hole. But it doesn't matter, as Wise blows his birdie putt five feet by and comes nowhere close on the follow-up. Woods 2 Up thru four holes.
2:50 p.m.: Elsewhere, Jordan Speith, who was 3 Down to Billy Horschel, as won three straight to square things up heading into the back nine. Tony Finau closes out Keith Mitchel 2&1, while Kevin Kisner knocks in a wedge from 60 yards out for eagle to even his match with Ian Poulter heading into the 17th.
2:47 p.m.: Wise finds the green, but is nowhere close on the par-3 4th. Woods answers, and answers with vigor, putting his shot 12 feet or so from the pin. Lead could be back to 2 in two winks of a coal miner's eye.
2:40 p.m.: Woods' third is not much better, spinning off the green and barely stopping in front of the hazard. Lot of rust from Tiger early. Wise' second finds the green, and will be in good position to grab one back at No. 3.
And Wise does, two-putting for the W. Tiger down to Up 1 in the match.
2:35 p.m.: Tiger again goes left off the tee and into a bunker, presenting enough of an issue where he has to lay up out of the sand.
2:30 p.m.: It's far from pretty, but after Knox fails to grab the sand save, Woods knocks in a 10-footer for par. Tiger, 2 Up thru 2.
2:23 p.m.: On the other end of the course, Russell Knox, down two to Bryson DeChambeau, chunks his bunker shot on the 17th hole. He picks up, giving DeChambeau the victory 3&1.
As for our main group, both Woods and Wise find the large fairway at No. 2. Wise's approach is again way off, falling to the right. It banks off a hill and into a greenside bunker. Woods' second shot isn't much better, going long that almost falls into the hazard. It stays on the fringe, but Tiger not taking advantage of Wise's mistakes early on.
2:16 p.m.: Woods misses his par save, but Wise's bogey roll comes up well short. Tiger takes the win with an opening bogey.
2:14 p.m.: We're not firing out of the gate, sports fans. Wise chunks his flop shot, while Tiger's runs 20 feet by the pin. But Wise's fourth is not much better, and will still be away as he attempts his bogey.
2:07: p.m.: Wise sends his approach sailing over the green, opening the door for Tiger. But it's a door Tiger leaves open, following suit with his shot out of the sand, flying the flagstick by yards and settling down the back slope. Two tough up-and-downs await.
2:02 p.m.: Tiger pulls his drive to the left side of one, finding a bunker on his tee shot. Wise is no better, breaking out the dreaded snap-hook that barrels into the tree line and kicks out. Uh, we're off.
1:56 p.m.: Good news: the "Try your best to be imposing" profile photos are back! Here's Tiger, who looks mildly perturbed to be taking a picture, and Wise, who looks like he just found out he's playing Tiger.
1:45 p.m.: Before Tiger tees off, a look at some of the early proceedings at the WGC-Match Play: Bryson DeChambeau is 1 Up on Russel Knox through 14 holes, Brooks Koepka is all squared with Tom Lewis after 11, and Jordan Spieth is 3 Down to Billy Horschel in just five holes.
1:30 p.m.: This is Woods' first time playing at Austin C.C.. It's a course that's mostly catered to bomber's (its winners being Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day) and does allow for the occasional miss off the tee. That should be music to Woods, who's not exactly known for his accuracy with the big stick.