Caution rewarded as Poulter progresses

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The Independent Online

Never before had as many as seven Europeans teed up on a Friday morning of the Accenture World Matchplay. That was the case at La Costa yesterday but it helped, of course, that they were still playing only in the second round after play has been washed out on Thursday.

Even so, they were playing rather well and Ian Poulter led the way with a 7 and 5 victory over Duffy Waldorf to reach the third round, which was due to be played later in the afternoon.

Poulter, on his debut in the event, beat Chris Riley on Wednesday but earned the respect of the local man's fan cub in the process. The 28-year-old stuck to his plan of hitting fairways and greens and let Waldorf make the mistakes.

In a match between an Englishman with purple trousers and eye-catching hairstyles and an American known for his Hawaiian shirts and colourful caps, Poulter made back-to-back birdies to close out the match.

"It was nice to keep getting the honour and hitting the middle of every fairway," Poulter said. "It's sometimes all you need to do in matchplay."

In one of the two allEuropean affairs, Darren Clarke, the 2000 champion, defeated Alex Cejka 6 and 5. With the prospect of six rounds in three days for whoever goes all the way, Clarke's fitness regime could come in handy but it helped to give himself a longer breather for lunch than would otherwise have been the case and he took advantage by going for a rub down.

"I'm thrilled to be through so quickly," said the Irishman. "But the scoreline flatters me. Alex had one of those days when everything he tried went wrong for him."

Possibly the most stunning performance came from a seemingly rejuvenated Colin Montgomerie who produced five birdies in eight holes to go four-up on the American Ryder Cup player Stewart Cink. Monty, both 40 and outside the world's top-50, was building on the confidence of beating Nick Price from two-down with three to play in the first round.

After starting at the 10th, the Scot holed a chip from 40 feet at the 12th to go two-up and the only hole he lost came from a birdie by Cink at the 16th. With his belly-putter working well he was seven under in winning five and four. "Without a doubt that's the best I've ever played here. You have to make your opponent earn his holes but I tended to give them away in the past," Monty said.

Like the Scot, Padraig Harrington reached the third round for the first time with a 3 and 2 win over Bob Estes which went as far as it did only when Harrington lost a couple of late holes before winning at the 16th. He was due to play David Toms.

In the Nordic clash between 16th seed Thomas Bjorn and 17th seed Fredrik Jacobson it was the Swede who won five and four but his reward in the third round was to meet the defending champion Tiger Woods, who also won five and four against the South African Trevor Immelman.

A storm on Wednesday night, following another earlier in the week, left the course waterlogged on Thursday and turned the pond in front of the 16th green into a lake that covered the 15th, 18th, first and ninth fairways. It was still heavy underfoot but instead of Wednesday's tight contests, it was all sink or swim.

Phil Mickelson, who lives only 10 minutes from La Costa, beat the Open champion Ben Curtis 7 and 6, equalling the biggest margin of victory for the event. It was a demolition job from the left-hander whose victories number more than the times Curtis has made the cut on the US Tour but do not include a major championship.

* England's Karen Stupples, making her debut on the European tour, mastered tough conditions at the ANZ Women's Masters yesterday to shoot a five-under-par 67 and take a two-shot lead after two rounds at Royal Pines on the Queensland Gold Coast.