Friday, 19 March 2010
Darren Clarke will seek inspiration from a return to the scene of his greatest triumph when he launches his bid to recapture the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play close to the Pacific Ocean at La Costa Resort and Spa.

The World Number 12 became the first, and so far only, European winner in the World Golf Championships series in February 2000 when he overcame a 'Who's Who' of professional golf to claim the $1,000,000 first prize.

Clarke toppled Paul Azinger, Mark O'Meara, Thomas Björn, Hal Sutton, David Duval and Tiger Woods to win the title, his first on American soil. All bar Björn - sadly injured and unable to compete this week - have won Major Championships and Clarke’s 4 and 3 victory over World Number One Woods in the 36 hole final was a superb exhibition of match play golf at its finest.

The Northern Ireland player is scheduled to face American Matt Gogel, recent winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in the first round over the predominantly parkland La Costa course, which is peppered by treacherous water hazards.

None of those made the slightest difference to Clarke two years ago, and the 33 year old has subsequently gone on to record impressive European Tour victories in the 2000 Compass Group English Open and in last season's Smurfit European Open, when he became the first Irishman in 19 years to win on home soil.

At the time, Clarke admitted: "To win my first WGC event, and my first title on American soil, is great. To beat the World Number One in the final, and in a field of the best 64 players in the world, is just fantastic. This takes my game to a new level."

A total of 20 European Tour Members will be aiming to achieve that same level of excellence at La Costa Resort and Spa this week. The total should have been 22, but as well as Björn, Argentina's José Coceres will be an absentee after breaking an arm in a skiing accident.

Colin Montgomerie, the seven-time Volvo Order of Merit winner, has made the long haul flight to California in spite of the back problems which forced him to withdraw from the Johnnie Walker Classic in Perth. He faces Scott McCarron in the first round.

There are several potentially exciting ties in store. Woods, the top seed, will take on the reigning Compass Group English Open champion, Peter O'Malley of Australia, who secured his place in the field due to the withdrawals of Björn and Coceres.

Woods admitted: "I think it's more exciting because it's a different format. Knowing that you have the top 64 players, and that you have to beat six guys, which is different from trying to beat the entire field."

"In match play anything can happen," Woods added. "Shoot six under par or seven under par and pack your bags! That's one of the exciting things about it. That's what has happened. Big guys have been upset by players who don't have the same kind of resumé. In an 18 hole match, that is what happens. I thoroughly enjoy match play. I really looking forward to going head-to-head with somebody."

The WGC - Accenture Match Play is the only World Golf Championships event Woods has not won. He won the 1999 WGC - American Express Championship, teamed up with David Duval to win the 2000 WGC - EMC2 World Cup for the United States while he has also captured the WGC - NEC Invitational on the three occasions it has been played.

José Maria Olazábal, who won the Omega Hong Kong Open in December and collected the Buick Invitational on the US PGA Tour earlier this month, lines up against Justin Leonard.

Seventh seed Retief Goosen, the US Open Champion and 2001 Volvo Order of Merit, faces Billy Mayfair while other notable match-ups bring Angel Cabrera of Argentina against Nick Price, Michael Campbell against Niclas Fasth, Bernhard Langer face to face with Adam Scott and Welshman Phillip Price against Davis Love III.

Defending champion Steve Stricker of the United States, now seeded 55th, launches his defence of the title with a tie against fellow American Chris DiMarco while the 2001 runner-up, Pierre Fulke of Sweden, takes on Japan's Toshimitsu Izawa, who is now ranked inside the top 20 in the world.

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