Wednesday, 05 October 2005
Paul McGinley, who finished tied third in the World Golf Championships – NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club in August, is part of a 33-strong European Tour challenge for the next in the series of WGC events, the American Express Championship, which takes place at the Harding Park club in San Francisco this week.

The Irishman battled superbly in Akron and had it not been for a touch of misfortune in the final round allied to a gritty performance from eventual champion Tiger Woods, the 38 year old Dubliner could have followed in the footsteps of Ulsterman Darren Clarke, who won both the WGC – Accenture Match Play in 2000 and the WGC – NEC Invitational in 2003.

It was a good week in general for the European Tour contingent in Ohio, with Vijay Singh finishing alongside McGinley in third place, Luke Donald and David Howell sharing sixth place, and Colin Montgomerie and José Maria Olazábal tied for ninth.

Clarke, who will miss this week’s tournament to spend time at home with wife Heather, is not the only European Tour Member to have won a WGC event, the last time it occurred being 12 months ago in the American Express Championship itself, where Ernie Els held off a fast finishing Thomas Björn at the Mount Juliet Conrad in Ireland to win by a shot.

As in Akron, the 2004 WGC - American Express Championship was a resounding success for the European Tour contingent with Howell third, Sergio Garcia and Clarke fourth, and Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington in a share of sixth place.

Obviously, a repeat performance would be most welcomed in California but it will not come from Els. The South African would have loved nothing better than to defend his title, but his continuing recovery from knee surgery has ruled that eventuality out.

“I'm taking a break from golf on the recommendation of my medical advisers,” he said. “It's the only sensible course of action, so that I can be sure of the promptest recovery period.

“Obviously the timing is unfortunate. Although let's face it, there's no such thing as a good time to get injured. But what can you do? There's no point dwelling on your bad luck. All I'm doing is focusing on getting better as quickly as possible, so I'm out of action for not a day longer than I have to be.”

Of course, another honour which Els claimed last year was the Harry Vardon Trophy for topping The European Tour Order of Merit. The Big Easy will not win that for a third time in 2005, but with the race to finish Number One hotting up, events in San Francisco, with a prize fund of over €6 million, could have a large bearing on the outcome.

All competitors this week will find a course which has reclaimed its stature as one of the top public golf properties in the United States. Beginning in the spring of 2002, an extensive improvement process was undertaken to restore its famed layout to world-class standards.

Harding Park is situated on a gently rolling peninsula surrounded by the shores of Lake Merced in San Francisco’s southwestern corner. It is less than one mile from the Pacific Ocean, near scenic Skyline Boulevard and the renowned San Francisco Zoo.

Originally designed by Willie Watson in 1925, the majestic, tree-lined layout has played host to prestigious golf events including The Lucky International Professional Golf Championship from 1961-66 and 1968, and the annual San Francisco City Golf Championships, celebrating its 89th consecutive year in 2005.

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