Attendance gets boost this year

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Match Play officials said they liked the look of thousands of golf enthusiasts descending upon The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, on Wednesday.

Favorable weather and a field that included fan favorites Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson translated into a bump in attendance for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Officials said attendance Wednesday was up 36 percent over last year, although they did not have total numbers.

“Watching the (crowd) come in, we’re trending ahead of last year, which was kind of a down year for us,” executive director Wade Dunagan said.

Woods and Mickelson were back at the tournament, helping boost crowd numbers. Match Play began Wednesday morning with 32 single-elimination matches under sunny, clear skies.

Strong attendance could be a factor in whether the event will remain in Southern Arizona, where it has been since 2007.

The PGA Tour and its sponsors have yet to decide where it will be played in the future.

“It’s a part of it,” Dunagan said. “Certainly, a well-supported event is probably a happier event.”

Match Play has generated $6.2 million for charity since 2007, and $1 million last year, Dunagan said.

Speaking of the fans

As Woods walked past the gallery after teeing off on No. 1, Tucson native Al Rivas, 46, yelled words of encouragement.

“Atta boy, Tiger!”

Rivas said he was glad to see Woods back at Match Play after missing last year’s tournament. Rivas said he also greeted Woods with a “welcome back to Tucson” during Tuesday’s practice round.

“I missed him last year. It was boring,” said Rivas, who attended Wednesday’s first day of competition with two friends. “I like his game. He seems to be more available, signing a lot more autographs.”

Wearing a white Tiger Woods hat, Ray J. Ramirez, 8, of Tucson, also watched Woods in his 19-hole loss to Thomas Bjorn. Ray had collected autographs from 20 golfers.

“He’s a diehard golfer. He wants to be the one out there,” said Ray’s father, also named Ray. “We’re excited to see Tiger.”

Furyk makes early exit

Former Arizona Wildcat Jim Furyk missed his 7-foot par putt on No. 18 to force his opponent, Ryan Palmer, to make a similar putt to win.

When Furyk’s attempt went by the hole on the right, he conceded the hole and the match (2 up to Palmer). That caused many of the surrounding spectators to produce an audible sigh.

“That’s it for him,” Chad Wardlaw said with a frown. “It’s a bummer. I’ve always followed him, always liked him because he’s U of A, and he’s one of the good guys on tour.”

Palmer, ranked No. 55 entering the event, was competing in his first match-play event when he eliminated Furyk, No. 10 in the World Golf Ranking.

“I played very poor golf,” said Furyk, who was down 3 holes through 12 but climbed back to within 1 with a par on 17.

“My short game was absolutely horrible and my score was way, way over par.

“I had no business winning the match.”

Wardlaw, a 21-year-old finance major at the UA, and a former Pima College golfer, said Furyk’s setback was an example of how unpredictable the match-play format can be.

“Big upsets like this can happen,” he said. “You never know who’s going to be in it at the end. It could be a no-name winning it, or it could be a Tiger or a Phil.”

The kid can play

Matteo Manassero, a 17-year-old from Italy, received attention early in the week for being the youngest player to compete in a match-play event.

Now, the attention has shifted to his play.

Manassero, No. 57 in the world, knocked off No. 8 Steve Stricker to become the youngest player to win in Match Play.

“I played really well,” Manassero said. “I achieved a victory against one of the best players in the world and … a past champion of this event, so it’s just a big highlight for me.”

Manassero and Stricker were all square through 15 holes, but Stricker bogeyed the 16th and the teenager had a par to go 1 up. Manassero then birdied the 17th (Stricker parred) to win the match 2 and 1.

Manassero said he was “a little bit surprised” he was able to win against Stricker.

“I’m not expecting that much out of match play, because I’m not used to playing match play against such big players,” he said.