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Tiger's Streak On The Line At Match Play

Tiger Woods ran into one player and got two reminders. He was zipping along The Gallery during a practice round Monday, his first look at a new course for the Accenture Match Play Championship where he will try to win his eighth straight PGA Tour event.

Some people will argue it's not really a winning streak, for Woods has failed to win four times overseas.

So it was only fitting that he caught up to Shaun Micheel on the second green.

"Do you think I should wish him luck this week?" said Tony Lingard, the caddie for Micheel.

The streak in its purest form ended Sept. 14 on a gray afternoon in the English countryside when Micheel, the last seed in the 16-man field of the HSBC World Match Play Championship, pulled off a stunner and beat Woods, 4 and 3.

That never came up during the next 16 holes of a course that stretches some 3 miles out into the desert and eventually winds back through cactus and shrub toward the clubhouse.

They talked about the birth of Micheel's daughter, Marin Belle born on Feb. 9, and Micheel asked him if Woods knew what gender his child would be when it comes this summer.

"We're not going to find out," Woods told him. "It's got to be one or the other."

The rest of the round was spent navigating the 7,446-yard course at Dove Mountain just north of Tucson, with two par 5s over 600 yards and two par 4s that can be reached off the tee.

It's a new course for all 64 players in the field after the World Golf Championship event left soggy La Costa Resort north of San Diego. Phil Mickelson was due on Tuesday, and he joked last week that he couldn't remember the last time he played a regular practice round anywhere except the majors.

It is rare for Woods to show up on Monday, but he knew nothing about the course, and didn't learn much except to notice it was green, brown and white with some marvelous vistas of the valley below.

At stake this week is the streak with the asterisk.

Counting only PGA Tour events, the last time he didn't go home with a trophy was July 9, when he was second at the Western Open. Woods believes his streak ended when he lost to Micheel, although he also recognizes that his PGA Tour streak is seven and counting, and each week brings him closer to the 11 in a row that Byron Nelson won in 1945.

More than anything, he realizes there are no guarantees at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Woods is a two-time champion of this fickle event, but he also has lost in every round except the semifinals. A year ago, he was bounced by Chad Campbell in the third round.

And while this WGC event is played over 18 holes until the 36-hole championship match, even the purest form of match play _ 36 holes every match _ didn't spare Woods a defeat at Wentworth last September.

"I cherish my win against him," said Micheel, who lost in the championship match that week to Paul Casey. "It's exciting to be playing in the same generation with a guy who arguably is the best ever."

And what does Micheel think when he hears about the winning streak?

"I'm not too much of a historian," he said, "But I don't think guys were going overseas back in Byron's day. Golf was nothing like it is today. Tiger's streak is a PGA Tour streak, and it's amazing. But this can be the one tournament that gets him."

Micheel won't face Woods in the first round Thursday _ he will play third-seeded Adam Scott, while Woods takes on No. 64 J.J. Henry, who got into the field when Charl Schwartzel withdrew. The former PGA champion would have to win all his matches, and Woods would have to win all his, for them to meet again.

Micheel already has the ending scripted.

"I think it's interesting that Byron's streak ended in Memphis," he said. "Wouldn't that be something if a guy from Memphis could stop Tiger's tour streak?"

That's getting too far ahead. Most players know better than to look past Wednsday.

The only player who should be concerned about Woods _ and vice versa _ is Henry. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but Henry was on the flight to Tucson with Micheel on Sunday night.

"I said, 'Maybe we'll have a couple of beers on the plane and see what I can pry out of him,'" Henry said. "Golf is golf. Let's be honest, it's 18 holes. Anything can happen. I get hot, make a bunch of birdies, I'm just as capable of beating anybody."

This isn't the first time Henry has faced the No. 1 seed.

He recalled getting the final spot in the '98 U.S. Amateur and having to take on Joel Kriebel in the first round. He won that match, but what makes Henry chuckle is that Kriebel and Woods were teammates at Stanford.

"I can even remember Johnny Miller saying, 'This is Joel Kriebel's worst nightmare,'" Henry said. "I was a first-team All-American. Obviously, this is a little different."

Not entirely.

Miller will be in the booth for the first time at this event as coverage shifts to NBC Sports.