MARANA, Ariz. – The snow is gone from the Match Play Championship, and so are Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
In a stunning conclusion to what already is a bizarre week on Dove Mountain, Shane Lowry of Ireland made a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole to eliminate Rory McIlroy in the opening round of golf’s most unpredictable tournament.
It was the third time in the last four years the No. 1 seed went home after one round.
Moments later, Charles Howell III finished off a fabulous round in cold conditions by defeating Woods on the 17th hole. Howell played bogey-free on a course that still had patches of snow and ice after being cleared Thursday morning.
The match was all square when Howell hit a wedge that stopped inches from the cup on the 15th hole for a conceded birdie. Then, he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th and went 2 up when Woods badly missed a 12-foot birdie putt.
I had nothing to lose, said Howell, who started the year outside the top 100 in the world and hasn’t qualified for this World Golf Championship in five years. In this format, match play is crazy. He’s Tiger Woods. I was lucky to hang in there.
The final matches were played in near darkness, and they could have stopped after 15 holes. Woods wanted to play on, even though Howell had the momentum. Woods was 2 under for the day, and neither of them made a bogey.
We both played well, Woods said. He made a couple of more birdies than I did. He played well, and he’s advancing.
McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, built a 2-up lead early in the match until Lowry rallied and grabbed the moment by chipping in for birdie on the par-3 12th and then ripping a fairway metal to within a few feet for a conceded eagle on the 13th.
The two-time major champion hung tough, coming up with a clutch birdie on the 16th to stay in the game.
McIlroy nearly holed his bunker on the 18th, and Lowry followed with a steady shot out to 4 feet and calmly sank the putt.
Deep down, I knew I could beat him, Lowry said. There’s a reason I’m here, and this is match play.
LPGA: In Chonburi, Thailand, Stacy Lewis shot a 9-under 63 in the first round to take a three-stroke lead at the LPGA Thailand.
The 2012 LPGA Tour player of birdied the last two holes to finish three strokes ahead of Karine Icher (66).
Inbee Park, Amy Yang, Catriona Matthew and Gerina Piller were four strokes behind in a tie for third. Top-ranked Yani Tseng was well off the pace at 3 over 76..
Former Fort Wayne resident Amanda Blumenherst is not playing this week.