Tiger Woods readies for Match Play

Updated: February 21, 2012, 9:46 PM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

MARANA, Ariz. -- Tiger Woods will face Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in his first-round match on Wednesday in the WGC-Accenture Match Play at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain.

And while the 36-year-old Woods, owner of 14 major titles and a three-time Match Play winner, would seem to have the edge on his opponent, Woods isn't taking anything for granted.

"Anybody can win any match," Woods said. "Anybody can beat anybody at this level."

Woods understands that truism as well as anybody at Dove Mountain -- he has twice lost in the first round at the Match Play. Last year he lost in 19 holes to Thomas Bjorn as Woods struggled with his golf swing. In 2002, he was beaten 2 and 1 by Peter O'Malley.

Given Woods' past early exits and that his game is still a work in progress, Fernandez-Castano seems confident.

"I'm the underdog, I have nothing to lose," the 31-year-old Spaniard said. "At the same time I don't think [Woods is] at his best. So it's a good opportunity. If I play well I can beat him."

Woods didn't take Fernandez-Castano's challenge lightly.

"I feel exactly the same way as he does. I feel he's beatable," he said.

When asked if comments like these give him greater motivation, Woods had to censor himself.

"Everyone has a hole, and that's kind of how I look at it, it's their prerogative, it's their opinion," Woods said.

Woods will have to win six matches this week to take home his fourth Match Play trophy. For the first time, Woods is not among the top four seeds and will have to beat such notables in the Sam Snead bracket as top-seeded Lee Westwood, Webb Simpson and Bill Haas to get into the final four. But he does have a proven track record in the event. Woods is 32-8 in 11 appearances.

"It's a sprint, it is a boat race. You have to get off to quick starts. Generally if you get down early, 2 or 3 down, those -- you rarely come back," Woods said. "It's hard to make up ground when you're playing 18 holes.

"It puts such a premium on getting off to a good start, and the guys that do generally win the matches."

First, he's got to beat Fernandez-Castano, a five-time European Tour winner, on Wednesday in the first round. It's one match at a time for Woods, never more than at this point in his career, where he needs to prove to himself and the world that he can win another official event after a three-year hiatus from the winner's circle.

Farrell Evans is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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