Sacrificial lamb or Tiger slayer?

Jeff Passan

Woods at Match Play
How Tiger Woods has fared at the Match Play Championships since 1999.

Year Finish Final match
2008 First Beat Stewart Cink, 8 and 7, in championship
2007 T-9th Lost to Nick O'Hern, 20 holes, in third round
2006 T-9th Lost to Chad Campbell, 1-up, in third round
2005 T-17th Lost to Nick O'Hern, 3 and 1, in second round
2004 First Beat Davis Love III, 3 and 2 in championship
2003 First Beat David Toms, 2 and 1, in championship
2002 T-33rd Lost to Peter O'Malley, 2 and 1, in first round
2001 DNP --
2000 Second Lost to Darren Clarke, 4 and 3, in championship
1999 Fifth Lost to Jeff Maggert, 2 and 1, in quarterfinals

The sacrificial patsy for the resurrection of Tiger Woods – or his return to the PGA Tour, for the non-believers – is a 33-year-old Australian named Brendan Jones, who flew around the globe this week for the honor of getting slaughtered at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Such is the expectation for Wednesday when Tiger plays his first official round since hobbling off Torrey Pines eight months ago with his 14th major championship, a shredded ACL and a pair of tibia fractures for good measure. The thinking goes something like this: Tiger is back. Everyone else part, Red Sea-style.

And Jones gets it. This is only the most anticipated return round since, what, Ben Hogan's comeback from his car accident in 1950? Brendan Jones relishes that he gets to walk alongside history – probably a few yards behind, actually – if not actually make it.

Even Jones' friends have pointed out that he's facing a well-rested, healthy, eager-to-return, mentally recharged Tiger – who is still the best golfer in the world, by a marathon's distance, when he's none of those things.

The plan, then, is simple.

"Pretty much everybody said, 'If things don't go your way, just take out his knee,' " Jones said. "I hope it doesn't have to get to that."

Barring any Tonya Harding shenanigans, Jones goes into the match at the new Ritz-Carlton Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz., with one thing on which he hangs his hopes: his nationality. Of Tiger's six losses at the Match Play, three have come to Australians. Peter O'Malley ousted him in the first round in 2002, and Nick O'Hern beat him twice.

Brendan O'Jones, anyone?


Brendan Jones from Australia will face Tiger Woods in the first round of the Match Play Championships.

(AP Photo/Matt York)

"I'm an Australian, so I've got some sort of chance," Jones said. "Obviously, I know that I'm a long shot. I've got nothing to lose, so I can just go out and be a lot more aggressive than I normally would be. If you say what are my chances, I have some sort of chance."

Now, that's the spirit.

"I'd probably put the house on Tiger," Jones added.

Or not.

Jones, in reality, is more self-deprecating than slouch. He has won eight tournaments on the Japan Golf Tour, where he spends almost all of his year. Jones played the PGA Tour in 2005 and preferred life in Japan, where he can spend a few weeks golfing and then return to his family for some downtime.

Golf in Japan carries neither the prestige nor perks of the PGA Tour, so Jones is enjoying his free rental car and the food provided at the Match Play. And the fact that the eyes of the world will be trained on him Wednesday – for better or worse – gives this round just a smidgen more levity than the ones he's been playing on his home course, Royal Canberra.

When Jones found out a week ago he made the tournament as the World Golf Rankings' 64th-best player, the Australian golf scene pulsed. Another chance to beat Tiger, and from a player that grew up in the 2,000-person beach town of Tuross Head no less.

On Wednesday, the hamlet will drop all of its lesser issues – fishermen leaving salmon skeletons on the beach, and the discarded bones then poking children's feet, is of foremost concern, according to the local newspaper – to focus on their man vs. golf's machine.

"It would mean everything," Jones said. "I would have bragging rights for my friends back home. But I try not to think too far ahead. I know I'm up against it. So I'm not going to go out and think if I have the round of my life I'm going to win."

Then again, Jones noted, "Match play is a funny game." And after Tiger's last extended absence, following his father Earl's death in 2006, he returned at the U.S. Open and missed the only major cut of his career. And, uh … yeah, this is still Tiger Woods against Brendan Jones in a one-on-one match.

So when Jones walks up to Woods at 12:02 p.m. Wednesday on the first tee, shakes his hand and meets him for the first time, he'll do so without a kneecapping in mind, without reminding him that he's Australian, without any mind games.

Actually, he plans on asking Tiger a favor.

"Can I have three a side?"