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Woods lights the Ryder touchpaper

Tiger accuses Europeans of 'gamesmanship' to fan the flames of the controversy that never dies

Welcome to top-flight golf, the Chinese must have been telling themselves yesterday. You bust the bank to stage one of the season's richest events, spend millions to entice the world No 1 to town and all he does is deflect attention from your own HSBC Champions' Tournament to some non-paying inter-national match taking place in 10 months' time.

So it was when Tiger Woods relit the bottomless powder-keg known as the Ryder Cup by all but accusing the Europeans of "gamesmanship" in Shanghai yesterday. A surprise, yes, as the 10-time major champion has always been political correctness in spikes when discussing the biennial tear-up.

"The Presidents Cup is a lot more enjoyable than the Ryder Cup without a doubt," Woods declared. "That's probably because at the Presidents we're all good friends and you see more sportsmanship - good sportsmanship. That's the way the Ryder Cup used to be, but it's become sidetracked."

When pressed whether he had witnessed "bad sportsmanship" in any of his matches since his debut in 1997 he replied: "Let's not say sportsmanship. How about gamesmanship?" Woods refused to elaborate, although he barely needed to as the gloves, which some had hoped would be allowed to gather dust until after the last bell rings at the K-Club next September, were already well and truly off.

His team-mate Chris DiMarco first loosened the laces two months ago when referring to "the hatred of the Ryder Cup". That prompted a mischievous riposte from Lee Westwood. "If Chris thought last time was bad in Detroit, he should have been in Boston," he said, alluding to the enmity always being at its worst on American turf. "But it doesn't exist - there is no hatred. It's just very, very competitive." Doubly so after Tiger's comments, no doubt.

As is this European Tour season opener in, er, the Far East. David Howell is too nice a guy - "one cool dude" as Woods called him yesterday - to use the 29-year-old's allegations as an incentive, although this wonderfully understated lad from Swindon could do with as much inspiration as he can muster with the game's most ferocious competitor blocking his path to the £475,000 first prize

On the face of it, Howell's four-under-par third round yesterday was a good day's work, but not from where Howell was standing, albeit at 16 under, one shot clear of Woods and the Australian left-hander Nick O'Hern. "I think 68 was the worst I could have scored, and it's frustrating to have only a one-shot lead," the 30-year-old said. "I missed a two-footer on the first and four six- to seven-footers at the finish, but holed three or four in the middle you would expect to hole only one out of 100."

If he analysed his main rival's card he would have conceded the scoreboard could have looked far more ominous, as Woods had a 67 which included a pulled six-footer, a yanked three-footer, a three-putt from 15 feet and very little of note canned. Perhaps his errant aim had something to do with the clamour surrounding him. "There are a lot of distractions out there," he said. "A lot of people had mobile phones, taking pictures... you've got to block it out as much as you can."

That is Howell's task. "This a great opportunity for me," he said, not talking about the raft of Ryder Cup points that would make his second appearance a mere formality. "This is all about winning, playing with and beating the best in the world. Would I take second behind Tiger now? No way." Not for all the tees in China, he may have added.