Back to business for Woosnam

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There are draws, and then there are World Match Play Championship draws. The event, in its 33rd consecutive year and the sixth under the sponsorship of Toyota, did not get where it is today without making some careful arrangements along the way.

By this evening, the British representation at Wentworth will be down by 50 per cent. Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, the European No 1, plays Ian Woosnam - the man he beat to take the crown this season - in the feature match of the first round.

"The initial reaction was one of surprise," Montgomerie said. He knows better than that. "It's a shame, but it will be good for TV and the crowd."

"Honestly, both of us think it is a bit silly doing it," Woosnam added. "It would have been nice to have a chance to play each other in the final. They say it guarantees a home player playing on Friday, but I don't agree."

While Montgomerie was beaten three times out of three at the Alfred Dunhill Cup last week in St Andrews, Woosnam had the week off to rest his ailing back. Those problems helped hand the Order of Merit title to Montgomerie.

"I feel better after the rest," Woosnam said. "It's my legs that are aching now because of the back. They feel tired and I am getting cramp. It is like I'm walking uphill all the time."

As Montgomerie has recognised, the Welshman is usually careful to get his excuses in first, but the physio van has been primed for a possible visit after he has hit a few balls in the morning and he has already booked a table for lunch. Surgery, something Woosnam - who suffers from the deterioration of vertebrae in his back - has tried to put off, but maybe not for much longer.

"The surgeon wants to see me again," he said. "He assured me it is fixable and it won't stop me playing, but I don't know exactly what sort of operation I'll need. It is a question of when. It will take at least three months to recover." With the US Masters in April next year in mind, it may have to be sooner rather than later. "I feel like I am suffering all the time and, long term, I want to keep on playing."

Big Monty and wee Woosie have not met before in straight matchplay. "We know each other's games well and how we react under pressure," Mont- gomerie said. "I am looking forward to the challenge of playing him. I hit the ball straight and that is a key around here."

The Scot's record is good around the West Course, but he has yet to win either the Volvo PGA Championship or the World Match Play, although he lost in the final to Ernie Els in 1994.

Even if he should head for home defeated tomorrow - and he is the only one of the 12 players able to stay at home this week - his pounds 30,000 prize- money will take him past pounds 5m career earnings in Europe.

Woosnam, twice a winner here, became the first home champion in 1987, when he came through from the opening day. Only Corey Pavin in 1993 has achieved that feat since. "I don't agree that four of the 12 players get a day off," Montgomerie said. "But then I've never been seeded here."

His fitness training and dieting from earlier in the year may help if he is to play all eight rounds needed to win the event. "I don't feel my fitness let me down against Ernie in '94, but I played my best golf on the third day."

"It is a big advantage not to play until Friday," Els, the top seed and winner here for the past two years, said. The West Course is in superb condition and playing as long as ever, but it suits the South African's aggressive nature in this format. No one has won the event three times in a row, but Els, 27 today, should one day challenge Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros's record of five titles. Although perennial favourites such as the Spaniard, the Masters champion, Nick Faldo - who has a conflicting commitment in Japan - Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer, et al are not here, the line-up is still strong.

The American presence is particularly strong, with the top five on the US money list all here. The Major winners - Tom Lehman, Steve Jones and Mark Brooks - are the other seeds, but the winning American trio from St Andrews, Mark O'Meara, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, all play today.

Stricker, who has been drawn against last year's runner-up, Steve Elkington, with the winner to play Els, won all his five matches at St Andrews but was brought down to earth with a bump on Tuesday evening. Playing on Wentworth's par-three course, the honours went to his wife and caddie, Nicki Stricker, with a 27 to a 28.


First Round

0815 and 1230: *S Elkington (Aus) v S Stricker (US). Winner to play *E Els (SA).

0830 and 1245: I Woosnam (GB) v *C Montgomerie (GB). Winner to play *M Brooks (US).

0845 and 1300: *P Mickelson (US) v V Singh (Fiji). Winner to play *S Jones (US).

0900 and 1315: N Serizawa (Japan) v *M O'Meara (US). Winner to play *T Lehman (US).

* denotes seeded player

Card of the course

Hole Yards Par Hole Yards Par

1 471 4 10 186 3

2 155 3 11 376 4

3 452 4 12 483 5

4 501 5 13 441 4

5 191 3 14 179 3

6 356 4 15 466 4

7 399 4 16 380 4

8 398 4 17 571 5

9 450 4 18 502 5

Out 3,373 35 In 3,584 37

Total 6,957 yards, Par 72