Tough start for Irish pair in Arizona

From Brian Keogh in Tucson

Padraig Harrington and Darren Clarke could not have asked for a tougher start to the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship had they been paired with Tiger Woods.

But even the world No 1 admits that getting to the final of the $8 million event at The Gallery Golf Club outside Tucson, is fraught with more danger than a walk through the rattlesnake populated desert that doubles as the heavy rough around these parts.

While Harrington faces English Ryder Cup tough guy Lee Westwood in today’s opening round, Clarke knows that his putter will have to be on its very best behaviour if he is to see off Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

The Dungannon man wishes he was playing 400 miles away in Carlsbad, the scene of his 4 and 3 win over Woods in the final of this event seven years ago.

And like Woods, he fully expects a raft of first round shocks and surprises on a new venue that rewards long-hitting, deadly putting and imaginative short game play over driving accuracy.

Clarke said: "That's what happens with the top 64 players in the world. 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."

At 7,466 yards, the desert course is long and tough with huge, undulating greens that Harrington believes will cause far more headaches than the cactus-strewn desert that awaits the off-line drive.

"It's long,” Harrington said. “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.

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

"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."
Bidding for his eighth PGA Tour win in a row, Woods is scheduled to clash with arch-rival Phil Mickelson in Saturday’s semi-finals but his first task will be to overcome Ryder Cup team mate JJ Henry and avoid a repeat of 2002, when he crashed out to Australia’s Peter O’Malley in the first round.

However, the matchplay defeat Woods still regards as the most frustrating of them all is that 4 and 3 loss to an inspired Clarke in the 2000 final at La Costa in California.

"Losing to Darren was more frustrating than losing in the first round,” Woods said. “You play five matches, you get to the final and you know how hard it is to get to the final.

"It's one of the tougher things to do in matchplay is go win five to the get to the final and not get the job done.

"If you lose in the first round, you're out. OK, I lost in the first round. But to get all the way to the final, you work that hard and you have an opportunity. You only have to be one guy and you don't get it done."