Darren wishing he was elsewhere

From Brian Keogh in Tucson

Darren Clarke is still the only European to win the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship.

And it's no wonder that the Dungannon giant wishes he was 400 miles away in Carlsbad, scene of his famous win over Tiger Woods seven years ago.

The Ulsterman, 38, crushed Woods in the 36-hole final at La Costa and he made no secret of the fact that he'd love to be back there again this year as he takes on Ryder Cup team mate Sergio Garcia in today's first round.

A huge number of upsets are on the cards again this year with 64 of the top players in the world going head-to-head in an 18 hole sprint.

But Clarke is hoping that he isn't amongst the fallers at the first fence for the third year in a row.

Clarke said: "That's what happens with the top 64 players in the world. There are always going to be some great matches and this year is no different.

"Personally, this is a very different course to La Costa and there are lots of birdie opportunities out there so there will be a lot of upsets. It should be an interesting week but I would rather it was still at La Costa."

Clarke has played little golf since he returned to action in Europe's Royal Trophy matchplay victory over Asia last month.

He has played just three strokeplay events, missing the cut in Qatar before finishing 20th in Dubai and 27th in Malaysia two weeks ago.

First round rival Garcia impressed in Los Angeles last week, finishing sixth behind winner Charles Howell III.

And he can't wait to get stuck into his match with Clarke, who has failed make it past the first round for the last two years.

Garcia has never gone past the third round in five Accenture Match Play starts but feels confident that he can come scorching out of the blocks after a good week at the Nissan Open.

But he warned that any banter between himself and his Ryder Cup team mate will end before the set foot on the fist tee at the Gallery Golf Club today.

Garcia said: "It's a pity we have to play each other but if you want to do well here you have to beat as many as you can.

"That is what matchplay is all about and you have got to take it. Darren is an awesome matchplay competitor. He's got a lot of heart and he is a wonderful player, so that is always going to make it difficult. But I am looking forward to it, even if he is a friend of mine.

"We will give each other a bit of a ribbing, but when we get started it will get very serious and a little rougher I'm sure. I felt pretty good last week and I putted nicely. It was a good test last week because the course was quite difficult, so I am feeling good."

Clarke is still fining out on his 2000 win over Woods and confessed that he can't wait to show Garcia why he is such a feared matchplay competitor.

Reflecting on 2000, he said: "I played well that particular week and now I am just looking forward to playing Sergio. I can't wait to get out there."

At 7,466 yards, the desert course is long and tough with huge, undulating greens.

It is also highly exposed and if the wind blows, Dubliner Padraig Harrington expects it to test every club in the bag as he takes on Lee Westwood in the first round.

Harrington said: "It's long. Longer than I expected and I'm surprised how windy it is too. Some of the long irons into the greens, because they are so undulating, are releasing too much.

"I hear the forecast is better for later in the week but I am only thinking about tomorrow and nothing more.

"It's generous off the tee but it needs to be, because if you are in the rough, you are in dire trouble.

"The greens are undulating, which will make it tough if the ball starts moving around because of the wind and it will make it awkward for chipping too."

Harrington regards the new venue as a tougher challenge than La Costa, where he twice reached the quarter-finals.

He added: "I thought La Costa gave up a lot of birdies but I think this course is tougher. Then again, you never really know until you play it.

"There are two driveable par fours here, the seventh (354 yards) and the 12th (362 yards) but some of the par fives are out of range, like the the fifth or the 17th.

"I like the course, I have to say, but I am worried that I am a little bit flat with some of my longer irons coming into the greens, which would concern me."