As the top seed in this week's World Match Play Championship, Lee Westwood probably did not think he would have to tee it up in the first round against a former champion who, just a year ago, was seeded seventh. But thanks to the withdrawal of Toru Taniguchi, Henrik Stenson now stands in the way of the Englishman.
The Japanese was forced to pull out from the 64-man field yesterday with a neck injury. That has given the world No 65 his place. Stenson's plunge down the rankings can be traced back to this event in Tucson last year, when he lasted only one hole against Ben Crane because of flu symptoms. The resulting illness took such a toll on the Swede that only now is his game recovering.
It is an ominous development for Westwood, the world No 1, as Stenson is a fine matchplay exponent. He won this WGC title in 2007, beating Geoff Ogilvy in the final, and reached the semi-finals the following season before losing to eventual winner Tiger Woods.
Woods is seeded third and faces Thomas Bjorn in Wednesday's first round in Arizona. The American may have an interesting chat with Bjorn, the chairman of the European Tour's Tournament Players' Committee. Last week, Woods was fined for spitting on a green at the Dubai Desert Classic and George O'Grady, the Tour's chief executive, admitted that it was the reaction of a TV commentator which forced the Tour to break policy by naming Woods in a statement.
"We generally don't divulge the name of the players but there was no way that Mike Stewart [the tournament director] could not say it," said O'Grady. "The comments the Sky commentator [Ewen Murray] made to the British nation were so strong that there was no way you could hide behind anything and not divulge the name."
Woods may wonder why he is being singled out, particularly as O'Grady confirmed that previous spitting fines have gone unannounced. "In America, there is not the same feeling on spitting but it caused genuine outrage across Britain," explained O'Grady. "It is also frowned upon in the Gulf States and we have made a big song and dance about the European Tour adapting to the culture of the country it goes to."
* S S P Chowrasia had an agonising wait before winning his second European Tour title after Englishman Robert Coles' title dreams died on the final hole at the Indian Masters yesterday. Chowrasia was preparing for a play-off but Coles' final-hole collapse spared him the trouble. It also earned him a European Tour exemption until the end of the 2013 season. Chowrasia, without a title in 73 European Tour events since taking the 2008 Indian Masters, said: "At 15 under I was prepared for the play-off but, luckily for me, Coles failed to take advantage."Reuse content