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Woods holds off Stenson to reach final

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Posted: February 23, 2008 10:15 p.m.
Updated: March 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Woods holds off Stenson to reach final

Tiger Woods hits out of the bunker onto the tenth green during his match against Henrik Stenson in the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship golf tournament at The Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain, in Marana, Ariz. Saturday.

    MARANA, Ariz. — Tiger Woods holed another crucial putt on the 17th hole Saturday, this one sending him into the 36-hole final of the Accenture Match Play Championship for the fourth time in nine tries.
    Woods never trailed in a tight match with defending champion Henrik Stenson, who tied him with a 15-foot birdie on the 16th. But the 17th hole has been somewhat of a charm for the world’s No. 1 player, who might not be around if not for a 35-foot eagle putt he made in the first round, or Aaron Baddeley’s eagle putt that just missed to the right on Friday.
    After hitting a tough bunker shot to 12 feet, Woods holed the birdie putt for a 1-up lead, and wound up with a 2-up victory when Stenson conceded the final hole when he twice came short of the green.
    Woods will face Stewart Cink, who this time has a fighting chance.
    Cink, who was 7 under on his first nine holes in beating Justin Leonard 4 and 2, last played in the final group with Woods last month at the Buick Invitational. Cink started that round eight shots behind.
    This time, they start all square over 36 holes at Dove Mountain.
    Woods figures to have an advantage in experience, among other things. Cink has never made it this far in the Match Play Championship, while Woods won in 2003 and 2004, and lost in the final match to Darren Clarke in 2000.
    Cink’s last victory was the NEC Invitational at Firestone in 2004. Since that time, he is 0-for-85 on the PGA Tour, while Woods has won 22 times in 56 starts.
    It will be the sixth All-American final in 10 years of this World Golf Championship.
    No played better Saturday than Cink, who until this year at only advanced as far as the quarterfinals one time.
    He built an early lead against U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and pulled away with four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine for a 3-and-2 victory to reach the semifinals against Justin Leonard.
    That the match went 16 holes was a minor miracle.
    Cink shot a 29 on the front nine, taking the lead with two short birdies, taking some fight out of Leonard with a 20-foot eagle putt on the 312-yard seventh hole and not dropping a hole until he was 4 up with four holes to play.
    Cink and Woods have met only one time in this tournament, with Woods beating him in third round of 1999.
    ‘‘It feels great just to get this far,’’ Cink said. ‘‘To be in the final, it’s going to be a blast.’’
    In his 13 matches at this tournament, Stenson has gone the distance in 10 of them. He was close to taking the lead twice until Woods made a 15-footer to match birdies on the eighth, and a 10-foot par save to stay tied on the ninth.
    Stenson also avoided a three-putt on the 15th by making a 7-foot par putt, then squared the match on the 16th with a clutch putt of his own. Woods never felt as if he lost control of the match, although conceding one mistake could change everything.
    ‘‘I’ve been in that position before,’’ Woods said. ‘‘I’ve played umpteen more matches in match play that he has. And I’ve seen it all. And nothing really surprises me out there.’’
    But it was vintage Woods on the 17th, particularly in a week that began with his stirring comeback against J.B. Holmes with an eagle putt on the par 5. Stenson took himself out of birdie range with a poor wedge and a two-putt from 25 feet.
    Woods’ birdie was good all the way.
    ‘‘He’s been pushed a few times this week, and that’s all any of us can do,’’ Stenson said. ‘‘Eventually, we’ll get him.’’
    Cink got him once, but it was too long ago to remember.
    He was at Georgia Tech when a Woods-led Stanford team came out to the Atlanta area. A day before the practice sessions, Cink played Woods at Druid Hills and beat him.
    ‘‘But that was a while back,’’ Cink said.
    He made up a three-shot deficit on the final three holes at Firestone in 2006, only to lose to Woods on the fourth playoff hole. Cink couldn’t wait for the next chance, mainly because it meant he was in the final.
    ‘‘I’ve known him practically as long as anybody else on tour has probably known Tiger Woods,’’ Cink said. ‘‘He’s just fun to play with. When you play with him in the latter part of the tournaments, it means you’re doing something well.’’
    Cink has been playing as well as anyone on Dove Mountain.
    Only one of his matches has gone the distance, a 2-up victory over Padraig Harrington in the second round. He has played only 81 holes this week (compared with 88 for Woods) and has made 31 birdies and two eagles.
    Woods didn’t have it particularly easy on Saturday.
    He and K.J. Choi halved seven straight holes with pars — six times, Choi had a putt to win the hole — before Woods chipped in for eagle on the 10th, rolled in a 30-foot birdie on the 12th and eventually closed him out, 3 and 2.
    His golf wasn’t as spectacular as his 12 birdies in 20 holes to beat Baddeley in the third round, but it was clean. After driving into the desert Saturday morning on the first hole and conceding without reaching green in four shots, Woods didn’t make bogey the rest of the day.
    Now, he is one match away from winning his 15 title in the World Golf Championships since the series began in 1999. A victory also would also be a WGC slam. No one has ever held all three titles at the same time.
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