Monday, 19 February 2007

After seven out of eight years at the La Costa Resort & Spa in California, the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play decamps from Carlsbad and puts down its roots in Arizona this week, with European Tour Members aiming for a change of luck as well as scenery at Gallery Golf Club in Tucson.

The 1999 Championship won by Jeff Maggert was the first to be played under the WGC umbrella and, to date, Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke remains the only European Tour Member to have succeeded, 12 months later. There have been some close calls since, but no-one has joined Clarke in that exclusive club.

However, with a record-equalling 29 of the 64 players congregating in Tucson this week carrying the European Tour banner – including standard bearer Clarke – there is a detectable air of optimism about the first WGC event of 2007.

Seeded 52nd this time around, Clarke has drawn a first round tie which has the potential to be one of the best of Wednesday’s opening day. The Irishman, who beat two-time winner Tiger Woods in the millennium final at La Costa Resort and Spa, takes on 13th seed and Ryder Cup comrade, Sergio Garcia of Spain.

With the attacking prowess of this pair, the new venue could well turn into a shooting gallery, with Clarke and Garcia determined to knock over as many birdies and eagles as possible.

That all-European match-up is one of several such ties to savour in the first round, although the negative side means that one of the Tour’s representatives will fall at the first hurdle.

Luke Donald of England, the eighth seed, takes on the gritty Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez in the first round while the clash between former US Open Champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand and England’s revitalised Justin Rose fires the imagination.

South Africa’s Ernie Els, who has towered over several fields at the HSBC World Match Play Championship at Wentworth Club but has yet to reach those heights in the WGC version, goes head to head with Welshman Bradley Dredge – one of four European Tour Members to make their Accenture debuts this week.

Dredge, ranked 60th, is joined by newcomers Johan Edfors of Sweden, Jeev Milkha Singh of India and YE Yang in the field, with Edfors teeing off against a familiar figure in Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who played with distinction in the Nissan Open before finishing seventh in Los Angeles, takes on another Ryder Cup colleague in England’s Lee Westwood.

World Number One, Tiger Woods, fills the role of Number One seed with a tie against 64th ranked JJ Henry while defending champion, Geoff Ogilvy of Australia is rated 11th this year and opens his title defence against another former winner in American Steve Stricker.

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