Europe has already tasted success in team match play this year with victory over Asia in The Royal Trophy in Bangkok, but it is in the individual realm that Members will turn their attention to this week with the staging of the first of the World Golf Championships of the season, the WGC – Accenture Match Play in California.
Hopes of success are especially high considering a record number of European Tour Members will travel to La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad this year – 28 in total – which represents three more than the previous best of 25 in 2003.
The number had originally been 29 but a recurrence of a neck injury problem for Thomas Björn has seen the Dane have to withdraw from the tournament. Originally Björn, the Number 27 seed, was scheduled to face John Daly in round one but his withdrawal meant tournament organisers were forced to rejig the entire opening day’s play.
It meant a last minute entry into the tournament for Trinidad and Tobago’s Stephen Ames, whose “reward” came in the shape of a tie against the Number One seed and the World Number One, Tiger Woods. That honour was originally bestowed on Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, but the Ulsterman now moves up to face Number Two seed Vijay Singh instead.
Included in The European Tour contingent are two debutants, England’s Paul Broadhurst and Henrik Stenson of Sweden, the appearance of Broadhurst notable for the additional reason that it is his first appearance – at age 40 – in any WGC event. The five time winner on The European Tour International Schedule was initially scheduled to face Singh but now comes up against fellow European Tour Member Retief Goosen.
Fellow debutant Stenson will go into the event full of confidence having had an excellent start to 2006, three top tens in his last three tournaments, the highlight of which was victory in The Commercialbank Qatar Masters, a success which virtually guaranteed him a place in the European Team for The Ryder Cup at The K Club in September.
Stenson was originally paired with American Tim Herron but now is involved in one of the most intriguing ties of the day from a European perspective, facing England’s Paul Casey, also a winner already in 2006 in the Volvo China Open.
The Swede will start in a confident fashion not only for the form mentioned above, but also for the fact that he has shown a particular penchant for the match play format recently. He was unbeaten in both The Seve Trophy last September and The Royal Trophy last month and indeed finished joint top points scorer in each event.
Defending champion at La Costa will be American David Toms who romped to a 6 and 5 victory in the 36 hole final 12 months ago over fellow countryman Chris DiMarco having, at one stage, been nine up.
Toms, this year seeded Number Eight, beat England’s Ian Poulter in the semi-final last year but now the European Tour Member will have the chance for revenge in what looks to be, arguably, the tie of the round.
Poulter, ironically, had been scheduled to face DiMarco – the winner of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship last month - but now moves to the other 2005 finalist instead and will be keen to win to maintain a progression which saw him reach the quarter-finals in 2004 and the semi-finals in 2005.
Aside from Stenson versus Casey, Singh versus McDowell and Goosen versus Broadhurst, the redrawn first round has thrown up three other all European Tour ties; Colin Montgomerie facing Niclas Fasth, Luke Donald coming up against Richard Green, and the intriguing match-up of two two-time European Tour Order of Merit winners, Ernie Els and Bernhard Langer.
This year’s action tees off on Wednesday February 22 with the 32 first round ties, the 16 second round ties take place on Thursday, the eight third round ties are scheduled for Friday, Saturday sees the quarter-finals and the semi-finals take place with the 36 hole final and the third/fourth place play-off on Sunday February 26.
First Round times and pairings: (All times Pacific Times – US)
7.25am Adam Scott v Lucas Glover
7.34am Stuart Appleby v Tom Lehman
7.43am David Howell v Steve Elkington
7.52am Scott Verplank v Lee Westwood
8.01am Kenny Perry v Carl Pettersson
8.10am Davis Love III v Mark Hensby
8.19am Colin Montgomerie v Niclas Fasth
8.28am Paul McGinley v Shingo Katayama
8.37am David Toms v Ian Poulter
8.46am José Maria Olazábal v Brandt Jobe
8.55am Phil Mickelson v Charles Howell III
9.04am Bart Bryant v John Daly
9.13am Chris DiMarco v Mark Calcavecchia
9.22am Tim Clark v Arron Oberholser
9.31am Jim Furyk v Zach Johnson
9.40am Fred Couples v Sean O’Hair
9.49am Henrik Stenson v Paul Casey
9.58am Chad Campbell v Tim Herron
10.07am Michael Campbell v Geoff Ogilvy
10.16am Nick O’Hern v Fred Funk
10.25am Angel Cabrera v Peter Lonard
10.34am Padraig Harrington v Rod Pampling
10.43am Luke Donald v Richard Green
10.52am Darren Clarke v Shigeki Maruyama
11.01am Tiger Woods v Stephen Ames
11.10am Robert Allenby v K.J. Choi
11.19am Ernie Els v Bernhard Langer
11.28am Stewart Cink v Mike Weir
11.37am Vijay Singh v Graeme McDowell
11.46am Rory Sabbatini v Miguel Angel Jiménez
11.55am Retief Goosen v Paul Broadhurst
12.04am Justin Leonard v Ben Crane
NB: Bold type denotes European Tour Member