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And The Winner Is…

MARANA,  Ariz. | In the end, the winner of the Accenture Match Play Championship was Accenture. Ian Poulter was the one holding the trophy. Tiger Woods might have been the one holding golf hostage. But Accenture finished first.

   This was a strange one, the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the world not even entered, although No. 1, Mr. Woods, would take over the tournament for a few days from a distance of 2,000 miles away; the top seeds departing before the end of the second round; and a wind and rain storm that swept across the desert bringing the semifinals to a halt.

   Poor Accenture, the consulting company that in December, after all the “circumstances,’’ became the first sponsor to drop Woods, with whom for six years it had placed its trust and reputation.

    “Go on, be a Tiger,’’ read ads in every virtually airport from Seattle to Johannesburg. But once the sexual revelations hit town, the consulting company, which credited the relationship with Tiger for “boosting its image significantly,’’ using Woods to personify its claimed attributes of integrity and performance, dumped Woods.

    So it seemed more than coincidence, indeed something like vindication, that when Tiger made his visual and vocal return to golf, back in Florida, two time zones from the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club where the tournament was rolling, the presentation was scheduled during the third round of the Accenture.

    The Woods camp denied the timing was intentional, that Tiger had been uncaged from his rehab for only a few days and it was then or never.

    But why Friday? Ernie Els, a second-round loser in the match play, called the planning “selfish.’’ Tim Finchem, the PGA Tour commissioner, said Sunday he later had met with Els, “and once Ernie understood the options available,’’ said Finchem, “he had a different approach.’’

    Other players also were less than enamored. Tiger was, as usual, taking control of a tournament, this time with words rather than with clubs.

     Accenture helps companies around the world solve problems. As one of those former Tiger billboards proclaimed, employing “10 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.’’ Accenture handled the Tiger intrusion with no sweat.

    “Nothing we could do about it,’’ said an Accenture spokesman. Plenty Tiger could do for Accenture, if inadvertently, since from the moment it was announced he would speak, every story seemed to mention he was going against Accenture.

   Whatever the judgment of the Woods confessional, and opinions ranged from brilliant to insincere, the determination about Accenture was it came out on top.

   That Tiger, still ranked No. 1 in the world, didn’t play was not unexpected, even though a year ago at the Accenture he made his return to competitive golf after the eight-month hiatus because of knee surgery.

    At the moment, maybe even Tiger has no idea when he’ll enter a tournament, although after his 13-minute apology his mother, Kultida, made an off-handed remark Woods would be back sooner than people thought.

   Phil Mickelson, the world No. 3, will be back this week, at the awkwardly named Waste Management Phoenix Open, at Scottsdale, Ariz. And, good fortune for that event, Ian Poulter, pink pants and all, planned on playing at Scottsdale.

   No Tiger. No Mickelson. That left Steve Stricker as the No. 1 seed in the 64-man match-play field. But not for long. Stricker became the second No. 1 in Accenture history – Tiger in 2002 was the other – to get bounced out on Day 1, losing on the 19th hole to Ross McGowan, who was No. 66 in the world but got in when Woods and Mickelson chose not to play.

    The tournament is played at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club on Dove Mountain, a course at 2,700 feet elevation in the foothills north of Tucson. There’s a ton of tall Saguaro cacti and a loads of smaller plants, including the Jumping Cholla, which leap out to stick to clothing and skin seemingly forever.

     What the small coterie of journalists stuck to was the Tiger story, of course, chasing those players still remaining in the Accenture not for comments about birdies and bogeys but about Woods and his re-emergence.

    Poulter, who beat Paul Casey in the all-English final, was quite clever about the whole business. He played smart by playing dumb, as perhaps the only golf-minded person in the free world who did not watch the telecast of Tiger, which started around 9 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

   “Didn’t see a second of it,’’ said Poulter of the Woods speech. This after Poulter crushed Jeev Milkha Singh in their third-round match, 5 and 4.

   “I had a job to do,’’ he explained. “I need to concentrate on my golf. I’m playing good golf. I didn’t want any distractions. So I purposely didn’t turn on the TV. Once I got out of the car, there was a lot of cameras and media asking questions, but not for me. If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t have to talk about it.’’

     Or to twist that advice, 90 percent inspiration, 10 percent silence. Whatever works. This week, for Poulter and Accenture, everything worked quite well.


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