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Match Play brings out the Cinderellas

©Associated Press

February 25, 2003

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Tiger Woods was changing shoes after his final round at Riviera Sunday when he noticed a broom putter leaning against the locker of Carl Pettersson, his opponent in the first round of the Match Play Championship.

"Should I break this?" Woods said, smiling.

This is one tournament in which even Woods needs all the help he can get.

Golf's version of March Madness arrives this week at La Costa Resort, where the top 64 available from the world rankings try to advance through the brackets in a $6-million free-for-all.

And like the NCAA basketball tournament, anyone can be upset.

Woods discovered that last year when he became the first No. 1 seed to go home after one round, losing to Australia's Peter O'Malley. Woods has reached the final once in the three years he has played.

"You can't put yourself behind the eight-ball in match play, especially against these guys," Woods said. "The quality of play now is so high that it's difficult to come back."

Only the final match is 36 holes, considered to be the true test of match play.

"Anything can happen," Woods said. "The best player doesn't always win an 18-hole match. It's been proven, and always will be proven, in match play."

Woods again is the No. 1 seed and plays Wednesday against Pettersson, who discovered Sunday he got in the field because Vijay Singh withdrew with a rib injury.

"It's an opportunity for me," said Pettersson, a Swede who went to North Carolina State and was the first-round leader at the British Open last year.

He is not a long shot. Last year at La Costa, the top three were eliminated in the first round.

Pettersson moved into position to be an alternate when he finished second to Woods by four shots at the Buick Invitational two weeks ago.

When the pairings were finalized Monday evening, the other top seeds were Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen.

Els, who has won four of his five tournaments worldwide this year, plays New Zealand's Phil Tataurangi in the first round. Mickelson plays Robert Karlsson, and Goosen faces Jay Haas.

The PGA Tour has changed the presentation of the brackets. Instead of No. 1 seed against No. 64, it named each bracket after four players: Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Sam Snead.

None of that matters.

The defending champ is Kevin Sutherland, who was the No. 62 seed last year when he knocked off David Duval and everyone else. The year before, Steve Stricker won as the 55th seed.

The highest-ranked seed to win was Darren Clarke (No. 19) in 2000 when he beat Woods.

MASTERS PROTEST: Martha Burk, who has led the challenge to the all-male membership of Augusta National, said she plans this week to file for a permit to protest outside the club during the Masters in April. Burk said she expected her request to be rejected by city officials in Augusta, Ga., and she did not discount the possibility of an illegal demonstration. Sheriff Ronnie Strength has ruled out the sidewalks and almost all public property near the club as protest sites, citing safety concerns.

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