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 Tiger Woods

Clarke third in WGC - Accenture Match Play as Woods takes the title
European Tour Member Darren Clarke ended the week in California on a high when he claimed third place in the WGC – Accenture Match Play at La Costa Resort & Spa, beating Australia’s Stephen Leaney by two holes in the Consolation Match, as Tiger Woods beat Davis Love III by 3 and 2 in the 36 hole final.

The 35 year old Irishman was behind for most of the way in the 18 hole contest but showed the dogged determination which characterised his week in Carlsbad to battle back and claim the €421,873 third place cheque, which moved him to the top of the Volvo Order of Merit and strengthened his position in the Ryder Cup points table.

“It was a bit of strange atmosphere to be honest, not being in the final, but nevertheless Stephen and I were both trying because I certainly wanted to finish third and not fourth,” said Clarke.

“Stephen got off to a good start and got up on me early but then I managed to get it together on the back nine and came through at the end. There are more world ranking points for third and that is what we were both aiming for, so there was enough meaning to the match without anything else.

Darren Clarke
“It was good to finish with a win obviously but another positive thing for me was the fact that today was the best I have swung the club all week, once I got through the first three or four holes. Nice to end on a positive note.”

Clarke surrendered the third and fourth to Leaney and was still two down after 12 holes, but with the home stretch looming, he changed up gears. A birdie at the 13th and a par at the 14th, after Leaney missed the green to the left, was enough to wipe out his deficit before he holed a crucial 40 foot birdie putt for a half on the 16th.

The superb stroke seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the Australian who bogeyed the 17th to fall behind for the first time in the contest and Leaney conceded Clarke’s birdie four on the home green to complete a memorable back nine for the Irishman.

In the final itself, the latter stages also proved bountiful for the World Number One and defending champion Woods, who became the first player in history to win the WGC – Accenture Match Play Championship twice, the win being also his eighth individual victory in World Golf Championship events.

One down at lunch to Love III, who had ended Clarke’s hopes on the 21st green of their epic Saturday afternoon semi-final, Woods levelled at the second hole of the afternoon, went one ahead at the seventh, and never looked back from there on.

The 28 year old American then birdied the eighth to move two up and took the ninth as well, their 27th hole of the final, when Love’s approach shot plugged in the greenside bunker on his way to a bogey five.

Love III, the third seed after the withdrawal before the tournament of 2003 Volvo Order of Merit winner Ernie Els, had chances to reduce the deficit on the back nine, but when he passed up birdie opportunities from five feet at the 11th and seven feet at the 13th, he realised it was not to be his day. From there, Woods was content to halve the 14th, 15th and 16th in par to close out the match.

Although the tournament did not yield a winner from this side of the Atlantic, it was nevertheless another good week for The European Tour contingent in California with many noteworthy performances.

Pick of the bunch was, obviously, Clarke, who reaffirmed his status as one of the world’s top players with an excellent showing, the narrowest of defeats to Love III in Saturday afternoon’s semi-final robbing the 35 year old Ulsterman of the chance to meet Woods in the final for the second time.

But there were other performances to savour, including from three debutants, Ben Curtis, Fredrik Jacobson and Ian Poulter.

Curtis, the reigning Open Golf Champion, played exceptionally well on the first day to beat Charles Howell III on the final green before going down to Phil Mickelson in round two, while Jacobson reaffirmed his growing stature in the match play sphere with victories over European Tour colleagues Phillip Price and Thomas Björn before he lost to Woods in round three.

But the pick of the first timers was unquestionably Poulter who ensured that the American golfing public were aware of him not only for his vibrant hairstyles, with a superb showing which took him all the way to the quarter-finals.

The 28 year old Englishman, a double winner on The European Tour in 2003, saw off the American trio of Chris Riley, Duffy Waldorf and John Huston respectively in the first three rounds before going agonisingly close in his quarter-final against Leaney.

Three down with five to play, Poulter showed the grit and determination which is so much a part of his game and his success to date to win both the 14th and 15th to reduce his deficit to one, but could not quite produce another birdie needed to take the match into extra holes.

In all, 23 European Tour Members began the week and each day a healthy yield lived to fight again. In total, 12 players battled through to round two, six made it to round three while Clarke, Harrington and Poulter lined up in the quarter-finals.

For Harrington, the week was particularly pleasing for, by his own admission, the Irishman has not enjoyed the best of times in this event in the past, having lost in the first round in three of his previous four appearances.

This time, however, Harrington saw off Japan’s Toshi Izawa and the American duo of Bob Estes and David Toms before going down to Woods on the 17th green of their last eight tussle.

Two other players to produce their best showing in the event were Harrington’s Ryder Cup colleague Colin Montgomerie and South Africa’s Trevor Immelman.
Like the Irishman, the 40 year old Scot had lost three times out of four in the first round but he found the winning formula this time, recovering from two down with three to play to beat Nick Price in round one and easing past Stewart Cink in round two before going out on the final green to Leaney in round three.

Immelman, who successfully defended his South African Airways Open title at Erinvale Golf Club, made his debut last year when he lost in the first round, but bettered that this time with a first round victory over Shigeki Maruyama, before going down to Woods in round two.

Courtesy of www.europeantour.com  

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