MARANA, Ariz. — J.B. Holmes was on his way to register Monday for the Accenture Match Play Championship when he bumped into Masters champion Zach Johnson, who stopped in mock surprise.
"Wow! So you did decide to show up," Johnson said to him.
Holmes has taken this kind of teasing since the 64-man field at Dove Mountain became official Friday and he unofficially became the sacrificial lamb, the No. 64 seed who has to face top-ranked Tiger Woods in the opening round.
But the 25-year-old from Kentucky with Paul Bunyan length off the tee doesn't look at it that way.
He only sees an oasis in this desert course above Tucson, an opportunity to deliver a 1-2 punch in Arizona. It was only two weeks ago that Holmes knocked out Phil Mickelson in a sudden-death playoff to win the FBR Open, which essentially amounted to match play.
"Except that if you screw up once, you don't get another chance," Holmes said. "Match play is a little more forgiving than that. You can go down a couple of holes and come back and still do well in the end."
Woods has won seven of the last eight times he has played, including his unofficial Target World Challenge. But if ever there was a tournament where - with apologies to Rory Sabbatini - Woods is "more beatable than ever," this is it.
Anything goes over 18 holes, especially in match play where no one knows who will show up with his best golf, or his worst. Woods has played this tournament nine times and only reached the final three times, winning in 2003 and 2004.
He lost in the first round to Peter O'Malley in 2002, was knocked out in second round by Nick O'Hern in 2005 and was eliminated by O'Hern in the third round a year ago.
None of those players can be regarded as world-beaters, and while Holmes' resume is a work in progress, he is coming off a victory outside Phoenix when he overwhelmed the TPC Scottsdale with his length, particularly in the playoff against Mickelson.
And it doesn't hurt that The Gallery is a haven for guys who can hammer it. A year ago, Henrik Stenson defeated Geoff Ogilvy in the championship match.
"Two short knockers," Steve Stricker said with a grin. "It was meant for guys who hit it a long way."
No matter the course or the opponent, Holmes is simply happy to be in his first World Golf Championship, where all it takes is six matches to capture the $1.35 million prize.
He wasn't even in the top 100 until winning the FBR Open, and only got into the 64-man field when Brett Wetterich withdrew because of a shoulder injury. So a first-round match with Woods is nothing to complain about.
"Anytime you get a chance to play against the best player in any profession, you have to be doing pretty good to even have that opportunity," Holmes said. "I'm just excited to be able to go out and play and see what I can do. I've never seen him up close and watched him play. I get to see and maybe compare a little bit, and see what I need to improve on."
Holmes' length is prodigious. He recently told how he reached the 542-yard 18th hole at Valhalla in two with a pitching wedge, and he hit one tee shot 389 yards last week at Riviera, the wind at his back on a firm fairway.
Woods arrived at midday and played his practice round, catching up to join a most appropriate person, Richard Green. Perhaps it was only a coincidence that Green is Australian and left-handed, a combination Woods has yet to conquer in this format (O'Hern is the same).
There was one nervous moment for Woods on the par-4 ninth, when his 3-wood found a bunker and he decided to hit another one. Halfway down his swing, he tried to stop when he heard the click of a camera from a fan in the gallery, and he winced and grabbed his side. He told his caddie to pick up the ball, and Woods walked down the fairway stretching out his right arm.
The other issue is his driver, which cracked during his victory in Dubai earlier this month.
Swing coach Hank Haney, in town for a few days, said with Woods' swing speed, it usually takes 1,500 to 2,000 strikes before a driver will crack. "The driver is at its hottest right before it breaks," Haney said. "But I think he likes this one."
The only thing that matters to Woods, Holmes or anyone else is simply to keep playing as long as possible.
Mickelson, the No. 2 seed and coming off a victory at Riviera, meets Pat Perez in the battle of San Diego public kids. Stricker is the No. 3 seed and gets a rematch of sorts with Daniel Chopra, who beat him in a playoff at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Ernie Els is No. 4 and will play Jonathan Byrd.
Picking a winner is about as easy as predicting weather on a late summer afternoon in the South. With so much parity in golf, they say there is no such thing as an upset.
But there's plenty of players who will be upset on Wednesday, namely the 32 guys going home.
"When you do get beat in this situation, it tends to hurt a lot more," said Stricker, who won the Match Play in Australia in 2001. "I don't know why. One guy beats you. But it does. It hurts more."
The Associated Press