Montgomerie baffled as Americans stay at home

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The Independent Online

No Tiger Woods, no Phil Mickelson, no Davis Love, no Fred Couples, no Chris DiMarco... if the first two's disinterest in traversing a whole ocean to compete for £1m - "the richest first-prize in golf" - has hardly had the eyebrows disappearing beneath the visors, then the other three's refusal surely has. "Yeah, I do find it a bit odd," said Michael Campbell, the only major winner competing in the 42nd renewal of this once-revered tournament.

"To me it's like the fifth major and there's so much money," added the US Open champion. "So why haven't the US players come? You'll have to ask them, but it's probably down to it not fitting into their schedules. Whatever, it does leave a very bad taste in the mouth and to the public it can't look good. It must be a right slap in the face for the sponsors."

Try a haymaker to the very bridge of the nose. HSBC must have believed it was on to a good thing, putting their might behind a BBC-screened event that counts Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els among their past champions, not to mention Woods as a past loser. But the banking giants should have been warned that the stock of golf tournaments are prone to go down as well as up.

Els is the cruellest loss, the South African's name becoming synonymous with the Match Play after winning the last three titles. His long-term knee injury means that the mantle of main crowd-gatherer inevitably passes to Colin Montgomerie.

"It is a shame more [of the top players] aren't here," the Scot said hoping to find a way past Mark Hensby, the unheralded but tenacious Australian, today and towards a final that could yet secure him his eighth Order of Merit. "But I don't know what else they can do to get them here. You're given a lovely home here, a chef, a first-class airfare, all the prize-money..."

But not everyone here is bemoaning the absentees, who also include Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia. Take Kenneth Ferrie. Ranked 109th in the world, the 26-year-old from Ashington would not necessarily have expected to awake this morning being given such an obvious chance of progressing through 36 holes against the No 1 seed into tomorrow's quarter-finals. But while Retief Goosen may be the only member of the world's top 12 in the 16-man field, this particular golfing god has always appeared strangely mortal around the West Course. "I've never been comfortable around Wentworth," the world No 5 said. "It's a pity. I live just down the road. I have to say it's the greens. I've always struggled reading them."

Even if Goosen's unarguable class does shine through in these opening skirmishes - which also includes Luke Donald daring to size up to his Ryder Cup mentor, Bernhard Langer - then Ferrie might struggle reading his cheque. A payday of £60,000 would be the fifth biggest of his career. Not a bad consolation for a first-fence faller.

HSBC World Match Play Championship (Wentworth) Today's first-round tee-off times (36 holes)

0736 and 1206 R Goosen (SA) v K Ferrie (Eng)

0748 and 1218 C Montgomerie (Sco) v M Hensby (Aus)

0800 and 1230 T Clark (SA) v S Elkington (Aus)

0812 and 1242 M Campbell (NZ) v G Ogilvy (Aus)

0824 and 1254 L Donald (Eng) v B Langer (Ger)

0836 and 1306 T Bjorn (Den) v P McGinley (Irl)

0848 and 1318 D Howell (Eng) v J M Olazabal (Sp)

0900 and 1330 A Cabrera (Arg) v T Immelman (SA)