From Brian Keogh in Tucson
Padraig Harrington is bracing himself for a first round onslaught from battling Jerry Kelly in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at The Gallery Golf Club outside Tucson.
As he prepared to continue his build up to the Masters on a bomber’s paradise in the Arizona desert, Harrington knows that the giant saguaro cacti dotted around the course aren’t the only prickly customers to watch out for this week.
A quater-finalist in 2003 and 2004, when the event was played at La Costa in San Diego, world number 55 Kelly is a typical example of the banana skins waiting to trip up the fancied players this week.
“It doesn’t matter who you play in this tournament, you are always going to have a tough match and Jerry is going to be a hard one,” Harrington said before heading out to take on Sweden’s Niclas Fasth in a ‘friendly’ match.
“He is tough and he is dogged and he is going to come out fighting and playing hard. Hopefully I will be prepared for that and I will be able to do the same.”
Tied for third in the Northern Trust Open behind Phil Mickelson at Riviera last week, Harrington confessed that he is not feeling 100 percent physically after battling a bout of shingles and a heavy cold over the past few weeks.
“I am actually very tired and run down because of the shingles more so than the cold I had last week,” Harrington said. “Going far this week makes it awkward. But you just have to be ready to play in your very first match or you are knocked out. If you are not 100 percent ready, you are going home early.”
A former high school ice hockey player, Kelly has failed to qualify for this event since he took Sergio Garcia to the 19th three years ago.
But like Colin Montgomerie, who faces world No 7 Jim Furyk, the 42-year-old knows he has nothing to lose.
“Neither of us give up but he’s is the Open champion so he’s expected to win, right?” Kelly said. “I have just got to go out and play hard and I love matchplay. It’s head to head. Kill or be killed. It is more like a boxing match than anything.”
World No 60 Montgomerie is hoping he makes it to the third round at least as he battles to make the world's top 50 and qualify for the Masters.
“If your are 60th in the world, you are bound to get somebody who is quite good,” said a chipper Montgomerie. “That's the way the draw works. But I don’t think he will be too thrilled to get me either, to be honest.”
The pair have superb Ryder Cup records and Montgomerie rates Furyk as second only to Tiger Woods in terms of his competitive spirit.
“Well Poulter is there of course,” Montgomerie added mischievously. “But just look at Barnsley. They are not going to beat Liverpool over the season. But they can over 90 minutes. And that is what it is here. I can beat the number seven in the world over 18 holes.”
The 32 first round matches threw up 11 upsets last year and world No 1 Tiger Woods knows that anything can happen after losing to Peter O’Malley in the opener in 2002 and to Nick O’Hern in the third round last year.
Set to face big hitting JB Holmes in the first round, Wood confessed: “You just have to step up to the plate and hit shots. You just can’t afford to slip up.”
Seeking his sixth tournament win on the trot, Woods won the matchplay title in 2003 and 2004 but hasn't made it past the third round since then.
WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship, The Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Tucson, Arizona
Key 1st round tee times (Irish time)
14.50 Sergio Garcia (Esp) v John Senden (Aus)
15.08 Padraig Harrington (Ire) v Jerry Kelly (USA)
15.26 KJ Choi (Kor) v Camilo Villegas (Col)
15.35 Ian Poulter (Eng) v Soren Hansen (Den)
15.44 Vijay Singh (Fij) v Peter Hanson (Swe)
16.20 Jim Furyk (USA) v Colin Montgomerie (Sco)
16.38 Rory Sabbatini (RSA) v Bradley Dredge (Wal)
16.47 Paul Casey (Eng) v Robert Karlsson (Swe)
16.56 Justin Rose (Eng) v Rod Pampling (Aus)
17.14 Henrik Stenson (Swe) v Robert Allenby (Aus)
17.32 Angel Cabrera (Arg) v Anders Hansen (Den)
17.41 Luke Donald (Eng) v Nick Dougherty (Eng)
17.50 Zach Johnson (USA) v David Toms (USA)
18.08 Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) v Justin Leonard (USA)
18.17 Lee Westwood (Eng) v Brandt Snedeker (USA)
18.26 Ernie Els (RSA) v Jonathan Byrd (USA)
18.44 Steve Stricker (USA) v Daniel Chopra (Swe)
19.02 Tiger Woods (USA) v JB Holmes (USA)
19.20 Phil Mickelson (USA) v Pat Perez (USA)