Jose Maria Olazabal took his revenge on Justin Leonard in the opening round of the Accenture World Matchplay at La Costa but the number of Europeans in the 64-man field was dwindling fast. The prize money for the World Golf Championships has been increased to $5.5m but with the winner's cheque remaining at $1m, the reward for those losing in the first round was raised to $27,500. San Diego remains, however, a long way from home when a hurried departure is necessitated.
Darren Clarke, the champion here in 2000 after beating Tiger Woods in the final, was among those making the rapid exit after losing 2 and 1 to Matt Gogel, who won his maiden title on the US Tour at Pebble Beach earlier this month. Padraig Harrington and Phillip Price were also on their way home.
Olazabal was four-up on Leonard in what turned into a crucial singles at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline before the American staged a remarkable putting display. His 45-footer at the 17th sparked wild celebrations from the home team and much controversy.
This time Olazabal looked like winning the match at the 17th but Leonard chipped in from off the green to take the game to the last, where the Spaniard's par did clinch the victory.
Though Olazabal won the Buick Invitational two weeks ago, the early play was scratchy, less surprisingly so from Leonard who took time off the tour early in the season to get married. Ollie went two-up after putting his tee shot at the par-three seventh to four feet and needed a two for a half at the short 14th but his birdie at the next gave him enough insurance.
Clarke lost in the first round of the inaugural tournament in 1999 to Andrew Magee but returned the following year to win all six matches. This time it was back to the earlier scenario and the difference according to Clarke was all in the putting. He missed the cut last week in Los Angeles but was happy with his long game. However Clarke never came to terms with the tricky surfaces on the greens here, a reminder that despite the sunshine and clear skies it is still early in the season.
But Clarke said: "I can't blame the greens, I just didn't hit my putts well enough. I was inside him on 14 occasions but only single-putted twice. Last time here I putted really well but I haven't this time. Tee-to-green everything was really good." He briefly led after holing from 18 feet for a birdie at the short third but that success was to prove deceptive. Gogel almost holed his second shot at the fourth to level the match and then took the lead when Clarke failed to get up and down from a bunker at the fifth.
Both were short of the green at the seventh but it was Clarke who took three putts to get down while Gogel took only two. The American then hit his approach to five feet at the next and when he holed and Clarke missed, Gogel knew his opponent was getting frustrated.
Clarke managed to get the deficit back to one by winning the 11th and the 12th but, despite being in two bunkers at the 13th, Gogel escaped with a half and that was almost that. Clarke went two-down at the 15th and saw his 15-footer at the 17th to keep the match hit the hole and stay above ground.
Price, who lost in the first round to Andrew Coltart last year, appeared to making a quick exit when he was five-down with five to play against Davis Love. But the Welshman then holed from a bunker at the 14th to start a brave fight back. He won the 15th with a birdie and holed from eight feet for a par to win the 16th before Love finally sealed the victory at the 17th.
"The experience is invaluable for me but obviously I'm disappointed," Price said. "At the end I just ran out of holes. It was always going to be tough being that many holes down to keep getting away with it." Harrington extended his run of first round defeats to three by losing 3 and 2 to the left-handed Steve Flesch.
This was a curious tournament for Harrington to open his season and the lack of tournament play showed. "I came here with low expectations and was hoping to get lucky," said the Irishman. "The practice range is no substitute for the real thing. I need tournaments to warm up. I probably won't have started as early as this if it hadn't been a tournament of his stature."
Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the US PGA Tour, has called for a single body to administer the rules of the game. "The current system is inefficient," he said. "To have two groups writing the rules instead of one for a global game doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."
WGC-ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Carlsbad, California) First-round results (US unless stated): D Love III bt P Price (GB) 2 and 1; V Singh (Fiji) bt T Taniguchi (Japan) 3 and 2; N Fasth (Swe) bt M Campbell (NZ) 2 and 1; E Els (SA) bt J Sluman 4 and 3; M Gogel bt D Clarke (GB) 2 and 1; S Lowery beat S Hoch 5 and 4; C Dimarco bt S Stricker 3 and 2; M Calcavecchia bt J Kelly 3 and 2; S Flesch bt P Harrington (Irl) 3 and 2; K Triplett bt R Allenby (Aus) 3 and 2; J M Olazabal (Spn) bt J Leonard 1 hole; D Toms bt R Sabbatini (SA) 1 hole; S Verplank bt F Lickliter 3 and 2; K Perry lost to B Faxon 7 and 6; P Azinger bt J Parnevik (Swe) 1 hole; T Lehman bt H Sutton 2 and 1; R Goosen (SA) bt B Mayfair 4 and 3; R Mediate bt J Daly 5 and 4; M Weir (Can) bt P Lawrie (GB) 3 and 2.Reuse content