Golf: Mickelson caught out by seedings

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Busy Phil Mickelson has missed out on a day off at the World Match Play Championship, which starts at Wentworth today.

Phil Mickelson, in the third week of his autumnal European excursion, was hoping for a day off yesterday. "I wanted to go into London and see your beautiful city," the American said. "I didn't think I would be playing on Thursday."

After being a member of the losing US team at Valderrama and then playing in the German Masters last week, Mickelson has arrived in the leafy corner of Surrey for a second crack at the Toyota World Match Play Championship. As one of the four players in the top 10 in the world here, he expected a bye to Friday's second round.

With three of the four major winners being absent, Mickelson had a point. But the World Match Play, founded 33 years ago by Mark McCormack of the International Management Group, has always had its oddities.

Ernie Els, the US Open winner, is the No 1 seed as befits his status as three-times champion. The South African has yet to be beaten in nine matches on the West Course. When he enquired some time ago, Mickelson was told the policy was to go down the world rankings. "It makes sense since IMG also run the world rankings, don't they," he mused.

In fact, Steve Elkington - no prizes for guessing he is managed by IMG - has been seeded two on the basis of his win in The Players' Championship, while Colin Montgomerie, European No 1, and Nick Price, the leading player not otherwise first thought of, are seeded three and four.

Elkington is ranked 13th in the world, three places below Mickelson. "If I was an IMG player, I'd expect them to do the best for me," the American said. "I think it was done to get one of their clients into the seeds." Instead, Mickelson, who lasted only one match last year, plays Frank Nobilo in the first round. "So Frank and I will have a good game and I'll get to see the golf course two more times. No problem."

McCormack called the strength of the field "extraordinarily good". That is one view. Another is that it is solid, with 10 of the players in the world's top 23, but lacks sparkle, especially without the Masters champion Tiger Woods, an IMG client. "We knew even before Augusta that Tiger's schedule made it difficult for him to play," McCormack said. "He is defending two titles on the US tour and has a commitment with Nike to go to Japan at the end of the month. With the Ryder Cup, his autumn was jam-packed. But we are optimistic he will play next year."

Jesper Parnevik, who plays th twice winner Ian Woosnam on Thursday, has not hit a ball since going down with a stomach virus during the Sunday night celebrations at Valderrama. He spent 24 hours on an IV drip in a Stockholm hospital, but in typical Parnevik style, checked himself out in order to attend his regular Friday night bridge session. "I still feel tired, but the stomach pains have gone away," he said.

DRAW FOR WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth) First round (Figures denote seeding): 8-J Parnevik (Swe) v I Woosnam (GB); 5-P Mickelson (US) v F Nobilo (NZ); 6-B Faxon (US) v D Clarke (GB); 7-V Singh (Fiji) v T Watanabe (Japan). Second round: (Parnevik or Woosnam v 1-E Els (SA); Mickelson or Nobilo v 4-N Price (Zimb); Faxon or Clarke v 3-C Montgomerie (GB); Singh or Watanabe v 2-S Elkington (Aus).