PGA continues without Woods


With the media attention surrounding Tiger Woods’ supposed imminent return to the game, you might forget that the Accenture World Match Play Championship is taking place, writes Stephen Devine

The main rumour in the week leading up to the World Match Play Championship has been the return of Tiger Woods from his self-enforced absence. It always seemed unlikely, however, that Woods might choose this event to stage his comeback, as Accenture were one of the sponsors who had decided that Woods no longer fitted the profile they were looking for at the tail end of last year.

The field for the event was finalised on Friday evening and in the absence of Woods, Steve Stricker will become the number one seed, having regained the number two spot in the world rankings with his win at the Northern Trust Open last week. The 2001 champion will start the competition against England’s Ross McGowan who – along with fellow Englishman Chris Wood – has benefited from Woods and Mickelson’s absence to claim the final two spots.

Irish hopes for the tournament rest on Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington. McIlroy was an injury concern last week, flying home to Belfast for a scan on his back that revealed a slight nerve impingement. The injury is thought unlikely to affect the world number seven’s participation, however, and has been attributed to his swing style, and in particular his hip movements. “I do all the exercises I can to make everything stronger around the joints,” McIlroy said. “It is a matter of resting and managing my schedule so that I am not playing too many weeks in a row.”

Harrington’s preparations for the event have seen him playing in the Pebblebeach Pro-Am, where the Dubliner carded a five-under-par round on Friday to leave him two shots off the lead going into the weekend. Harrington, who was knocked out in the first round last year, will look to regain his 2005 form in the tournament, which saw him reach the quarterfinal stages. The three-time Major winner normally has a slow start to the season, not reaching his peak until the Majors roll around, but if his form this week is anything to go by, he may be moving away from tradition.

Another interesting competitor is England’s Ross Fisher, who finished fifth in the US Open after a fourth place finish in the tournament last year. Fisher enjoys the Match Play format, having won last year’s Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain. He will start the championship against Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee.

All this, however, still leaves everyone wondering when Tiger will return from his absence. The likely comeback will be at the CA Championship in Miami in the second week in March, though Woods could opt for a more low-key comeback at the unofficial – and private – Tavistock Cup match on his home course Isleworth in Florida a week later. It will be up to the rest of the PGA tour to make the most of his absence.