Woods Comes Calling to Europe

RSS

HSBC World Mach Play ChampionshipsVIRGINIA WATER, England -- Tiger Woods wasn't about to fall for the $1 million question this time.
 
The last time the Ryder Cup was held in Europe, Woods played the week before the matches and gave tabloids plenty of headline material when asked which event he would rather win. He chose the American Express Championship at Mount Juliet and its $1 million prize.
 
'Why? I can think of a million reasons,' Woods said that day.
 
Woods' three-week tour of England and Ireland begins Thursday at the World Match Play Championship, which has the richest official prize money in the world with 1 million pounds (about $1.87 million) going to the winner. It ends with the American Express Championship outside London, a World Golf Championship that pays $1.3 million for first place.
 
In between is that exhibition over in Ireland that offers only a 17-inch gold cup.
 
The question inevitably came up again this week. Would he rather win a million pounds or the Ryder Cup?
 
'All three events I play in,' Woods said.
 
It was a diplomatic answer, for sure. And the way he has been playing, it's not hard to imagine.
 
Woods will try to win his sixth consecutive tournament at the HSBC World Match Play Championship, a streak that began with his British Open victory at Hoylake in July and continued with his victory outside Boston two weeks ago, when he closed with a 63 to rally from three shots down to Vijay Singh.
 
'I would say he's favored to win every event he enters, this being no different,' Colin Montgomerie said Wednesday. 'But match play is a strange game. It's a different game, and over 36 holes, the cream usually rises to the top. I would expect for Tiger to be in the final, wouldn't you?'
 
Woods is the No. 2 seed in the 16-man field at Wentworth and will face former PGA champion Shaun Micheel in the first round. Defending champion Michael Campbell is the No. 1 seed and plays Simon Khan of England. Also in the field is Ernie Els, a six-time winner of the World Match Play who missed last year while recovering from knee surgery.
 
The only other time Woods has played this tournament was in 1998, when good friend Mark O'Meara beat him in the final match. That was at the tail end of his least productive year in golf when Woods was in the middle of overhauling his swing.
 
Now, everything is aligned for another big run.
 
'He's an unbelievable talent,' Els said. 'I think the British Open was the biggest win, and I think it gave him the belief that his swing is where he wants it to be and he's totally trusting what he's doing now. He's got all the belief he wants in his game and he's got a lot of ability there. So at the moment, he's on a pretty nice roll. And it's for us to step up and try to play better.'
 
Els is coming off a playoff loss to Adam Scott last week in Singapore, but the Big Easy has home advantage at Wentworth. Not only does he live off the 16th fairway, he recently helped redesign the West Course.
 
Plus, no one has won the World Match Play Championship more times since it began in 1964.
 
'I've got as good a chance as ever to beat him because I've got a good record here. I've played some good golf around the course,' said Els, who has finished runner-up seven times to Woods in his career, more than any other player.
 
David Howell must like his chances, too. He will try to join Montgomerie as the only players with the 'Wentworth Double,' having won the BMW Championship in May by five shots.
 
Even so, it will be tall order to claim the big prize.
 
This is the purest form of match play, 36 holes a day, reducing some of the fluke results that often happen at the Accenture Match Play Championship in the United States, which are 18-hole matches until the final round.
 
Woods has been wearing out his opponents with all facets of his game -- his iron play at the British Open, his putting at the PGA Championship, his scrambling at Firestone, his driving at the Deutsche Bank Championship and a little bit of everything at the Buick Open.
 
Campbell isn't the least bit daunted. He already has shown his mettle against Woods when he ignored a charge at Pinehurst No. 2 last year to win the U.S. Open.
 
The Kiwi told about a lesson from his father from when Campbell played rugby as a kid.
 
'I was quite a slender builder and my opponents were bigger than me,' Campbell said. 'He said to me, 'The bigger they are, the harder they fall.' So I'm going to take the attitude this week if I do come across him that he's a bigger steak right now.
 
'Put it this way,' he added. 'There's no way that there will be 15 guys lying down and saying, 'Tiger, you take the title.' I'm sure the other guys who do play Tiger will definitely try their best. It makes us more motivated to beat him.'
 
The 16-man field includes seven players who will play in the Ryder Cup next week -- Woods and Jim Furyk from the U.S. team, Montgomerie, Howell, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson.
 
The two weeks are nothing alike -- the Ryder Cup matches feature partners and no prize money -- but Montgomerie said it would be worth paying attention to how those seven players fare.
 
'We'd like as many Europeans to do as well as possible for next week,' he said. 'If anyone has the opportunity to beat Tiger and manages to beat him, that would give the whole team a lift.'
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - HSBC World Match Play Championship
  • Golf Channel Airtimes