Back in the day, when Tiger Woods was on top of the golf world and virtually all the then-No. 1 had to do to lift the trophy Sunday night was stick a peg in the ground and glare at his opponent, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano would be toast. Indeed, had the 31-year-old Spaniard, who’ll face Woods in the first round of this week’s Accenture Match Play Championship, rattled Tiger’s cage in pre-November 2009 the way he did Tuesday, he could probably count on a 9&8 beat down and book a Wednesday night flight home.
That’s the number — the largest margin of victory in the history of the Accenture — that Woods tattooed on another upstart’s scorecard when Stephen Ames had the temerity to point out that Tiger was off his game leading up to the 2006 match play competition.
But while challenging Woods to man up at the 2010 Ryder Cup didn’t work out all that well for Rory McIlroy, Tiger’s mastery of Ames was so six years ago, and today’s 48th-ranked player believes he has a shot at an early upset when he and No. 20 tee off at Dove Mountain at 12:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
“I’m the underdog, I have nothing to lose,” Fernandez-Castano told reporters eager to know what went through the mind of the five-time European Tour winner when he learned who his opening-round playing partner would be. “At the same time I don’t think [Tiger’s] at his best. So it’s a good opportunity. If I play well I can beat him.”
That’s not all Fernandez-Castano had to say about his pending date with destiny — or, in this case, with the golfer who collapsed completely in the face of Phil Mickelson’s flurry of final-round birdies and an eagle a week and a half ago at Pebble Beach. In fact, Fernandez-Castano sounded downright giddy about his chances against the three-time Match Play champ who slammed his own trunk after Thomas Bjorn sent him packing on Day One last year.
“It was a feeling of, oh, yes….it’s a great opportunity. And you have to look at it that way,” he said. “If you tee it up on Wednesday thinking, ‘oh, no, I’m playing against Tiger,’ that’s not the way to start a tournament.”
Fernandez-Castano paid proper homage to Woods’ match play record, but he certainly sounded as if he were referring to a golfer who’s made progress of late but not the one who used to intimidate his PGA Tour colleagues into submission.
“He’s a great match play player…. He has a very good match play record, especially in his amateur days, not so good on the Ryder Cup,” Fernandez-Castano said before dropping his bombshell. “I think he’s beatable.”
But wait; there’s more. Fernandez-Castano — like many others — believes Woods’ best times are behind him.
“He might be No. 1 player in the world again. He might win majors again. But I don’t think he’ll be as dominant as he was…earlier in 2000 or those times,” he said. “Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. Anything is possible with that guy, he’s so good. You never know.
“Having said this,” Fernandez-Castano concluded, “he’ll probably win four majors this year.”
Woods had yet to schedule a time to meet the press before Wednesday’s opening round.