Poulter hoping for early birdies in the desert dawn

Defending champion done no favours as he is forced to rise at 4.30 for difficult opener with American Cink

Thanks to the baffling logic of the PGA Tour, Ian Poulter will set out first here at 7.25am today local time trying to avoid staging the shortest defence in the history of the WGC World Match Play. This could be the golfing equivalent of the heavyweight champion knocked out by the first punch as the fans are still queuing for their popcorn.

When this was pointed out to the Englishman yesterday he had the good grace to laugh. "Yeah thanks, I hadn't really thought about it," said Poulter, who plays the former Open champion, Stewart Cink. "I could be on an airplane by mid-afternoon."

Poulter was obviously shocked by the draw and has every right to be put out. If Tiger Woods was the defending champion, could you imagine him being asked to fill the spot usually reserved for those generously described as the lower-profile professionals? "Did I expect to be going out so early?" said Poulter. "No. I mean, defending champion at 7.25am? How many people are going to be through the gates at that time?"

The answer is not many, but this is not about Poulter's ego or even about how cold it will be at that unearthly hour or about how jaded he may be after the shrill of a 4.30am wake-up call. Poulter is a competitor who thrives off the unique atmosphere fostered by match play – as his record in the Ryder Cup and, indeed, this event last year show, when he saw off countryman Paul Casey in the final. "I can't think too much about it as it'll affect me," he said. "I must pretend there are 30,000 lining the fairways. Hopefully, I can win and get a better time on Thursday." Cink, however, is no dud, as the recent Ryder Cups have confirmed. He has all the prerequisites for the head-to-head format, including a steely nerve and a dead-aim putter. The same does not apply to everyone in this field. Lee Westwood, the world No 1, claimed "there are no mugs in the world's top 64". Fair enough. Yet there are a few rattling cups and saucers.

As the 2009 champion here, Henrik Stenson is not one of those and regardless of his world ranking (65), Westwood must guard against being one of the big-name victims on a day which is one of the most exciting on the golfing calendar. His record isn't great in this event – he has never advanced past the second round – which as Rory McIlroy points out is a mystery. Westwood has everything needed to add a WGC crown to the No 1 tag he wears so proudly.

But there isn't just Westwood and Poulter for the UK to cheer through the five rounds leading to Sunday afternoon's 18-hole final. Of the top 12 seeds, six come from Great Britain and Northern Ireland – a remarkable representation. What chances of another All-England final? "Don't count it out," says Poulter. "It wouldn't surprise me at all to see something similar happening this year, with the Europeans players so strong in the rankings," he said. "But in this format, things change very quickly. It could be an all-Japanese final."

The American networks would love that. As ever, the executives will be praying Woods survives until at least the weekend as he sets out on the latest chapter of "Reinvention of an Icon". The word is that Woods believes the new swing he has created under Sean Foley has "clicked" and at 14-1 he might represent absurd value to win for the first time in 15 months and 17 tournaments.

It's all a bit ominous for Thomas Bjorn, who will face Woods in the TV-friendly time of 11.45am. But then, the Dane is not exactly doing cartwheels at the prospect, despite Woods' on-course slump since his off-course downfall. Bjorn staged his own sporting resurrection in Qatar three weeks ago and might be expected to enter this nothing-to-lose contest chomping at the bit. Not Bjorn.

"I don't want to stand here and say, 'This is a great time to be playing him' – I don't think there is any good time to be playing him," said Bjorn. "Tiger's got a lot of things he wants to prove at the moment. He wants to prove he's on his way back to his best. So he'll be up for the first round. That's where he doesn't want to go out."

Bjorn has enjoyed some fine battles with Woods, not least when they went head-to-head over all four rounds at the Dubai Desert Classic a decade ago. Bjorn prevailed on that occasion, but on others was left open-mouthed by the brilliance of his playing partner. For instance, at the 2000 US Open, when he played with him on the Saturday when Woods was on his way to his record 15-stroke triumph.

"I've played with him when he was absolutely at his best and he's still got that inside of him," said Bjorn. "Whenever that comes out, he will be off again – and that could be tomorrow. Lee's No 1 in the world – deservingly so – but at any given time, Tiger's the player you don't want to play. You've got to have your day to beat him, but most times, he'll beat you. So, why even stand here and say anything different? I'm going to try to play my golf. And that's a match for anybody when I play my best."

Selected tee-off times (GMT; players US unless stated)

2.25pm I Poulter (Eng) v S Cink

3.45pm G McDowell (NI) v H Slocum

4.05pm P Casey (Eng) v R Green (Aus)

4.45pm R McIlroy (NI) v J Byrd

6.25pm P Mickelson v B Jones (Aus)

6.45pm T Woods v T Bjorn (Den)

7.05pm L Westwood (Eng) v H Stenson (Sw)

7.25pm M Kaymer (Ger) v S-y Noh (S Kor)

7.35pm Z Johnson v J Rose (Eng)

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album