MARANA, Ariz. — The snow is gone from the Match Play Championship, and so are Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
In a stunning conclusion to what already is a bizarre week on Dove Mountain, Shane Lowry of Ireland made a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole to eliminate Rory McIlroy in the opening round of golf’s most unpredictable tournament.
It was the third time in the last four years the No. 1 seed went home after one round.
Moments later, Charles Howell III finished off a fabulous round in cold conditions by defeating Woods on the 17th hole. Howell, who had not faced Woods in match play since losing to him in the third round of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, played bogey-free on a course that still had patches of snow and ice after being cleared Thursday morning.
The match was all square when Howell hit a wedge that stopped inches from the cup on the 15th hole for a conceded birdie. Then, he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th and went 2 up when Woods badly missed a 12-foot birdie putt.
“I had nothing to lose,” said Howell, who started the year outside the top 100 in the world and hasn’t qualified for this World Golf Championship in five years. “In this format, match play is crazy. He’s Tiger Woods. I was lucky to hang in there.”
The final matches were played in near darkness, and they could have stopped after 15 holes. Woods wanted to play on, even though Howell had the momentum. Woods was 2 under for the day, and neither of them made a bogey.
“We both played well,” Woods said. “He made a couple of more birdies than I did. He played well, and he’s advancing.”
McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world, built a 2-up lead early in the match until Lowry rallied and grabbed the moment by chipping in for birdie on the par-3 12th and then ripping a fairway metal to within a few feet for a conceded eagle on the 13th.
Lowry missed a short par putt on the 14th, only for McIlroy to give away the next hole with a tee shot into the desert and a bunker shot that flew over the 15th green and into a cactus. But the two-time major champion hung tough, coming up with a clutch birdie on the 16th to stay in the game.
McIlroy nearly holed his bunker on the 18th, and Lowry followed with a steady shot out to 4 feet and calmly sank the putt.
“Deep down, I knew I could beat him,” Lowry said. “There’s a reason I’m here, and this is match play.”
For McIlroy, more questions are sure to follow him to Florida for his road to the Masters. He now has played only 54 holes in the first two months of the season, missing the cut in Abu Dhabi and losing in the first round at Dove Mountain.
The Match Play Championship lost its two biggest stars in one day. The only other time the top two seeds lost in the opening round was in 2002, when Woods and Mickelson lost at La Costa.
Luke Donald nearly made it the top three seeds except for a clutch performance. He holed a 10-foot birdie putt to halve the 17th hole and stay tied with Marcel Siem of Germany. Donald then birdied the 18th from 7 feet to win the match.
Louis Oosthuizen, the No. 4 seed, rallied to get past Richie Ramsay of Scotland.
The opening round was halted Wednesday after 3 1/2 hours because of a freak snowstorm that covered Dove Mountain with nearly 2 inches. It continued to snow at times overnight, and it took nearly five hours to clear snow from the golf course for the tournament to resume.