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 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 past four years the No. 1 seed went home after one round.
Moments later, Charles Howell III finished a fabulous round in cold conditions by defeating Woods on the 17th hole. Howell, who had not faced Woods in match play since losing to him in the third round of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, 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 missed a 12-foot birdie putt.
“I had nothing to lose,” said Howell, who hasn’t qualified for the 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.
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 within a few feet for a conceded eagle on the 13th.
Lowry missed a short par putt on the 14th, only for McIlroy to give away the next hole with a tee shot into the desert and a bunker shot that flew over the 15th green and into a cactus. But the two-time major champion hung tough, coming up with a clutch birdie on the 16th to stay in the game.
“Deep down, I knew I could beat him,” Lowry said. “There’s a reason I’m here, and this is match play.”
LEWIS LEADS IN THAILAND: In Chonburi, Thailaind, Stacy Lewis shot 9-under 63 in the first round to take a three-stroke lead at the LPGA Thailand.
Lewis had an eagle on the par-4 third hole and added four more birdies on the front nine at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course. She birdied the last two holes to finish three strokes ahead of Karine Icher (66).
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