Woods wins crown but Clarke takes consolation

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In what is meant to be the riskiest form of the game, Tiger Woods again emphasised the odds are heavily in his favour by winning the Accenture World Matchplay for the second year running. Woods, the tournament's first repeat champion, beat Davis Love 3 and 2 in the 36-hole final yesterday at La Costa.

It was Tiger's first win of the season and his eighth individual world championship title. The $1.2million (£630,000) first prize sent his earnings from the élite events past $10m in only five years.

Woods fell behind at the first hole of the day when he jarred his right hand in the rough. It was the first time he had trailed in any match since the 16th hole of the first round. Love remained one-up at lunch but the effects of playing six rounds in the three days seemed to take greater toll on the 39-year-old third seed.

Love, who admitted being rattled by the taunts of a fan who was later ejected, could not manage a birdie in the afternoon and fell three-down at the turn after Woods won three holes in a row. The world No 1 fought a push with his driver all day but after a wild tee shot at the seventh his recovery enabled him to birdie the hole from 12 feet. He also birdied the next from four feet while Love's poor drive at the ninth cost him a bogey.

Tiger's record in the event now reads 20 wins and three defeats and he has won his last 12 matches in a row since losing in the first round in 2002. "I wasn't striking the ball well but I hung in there and made a lot of putts to turn the tide my way," Woods said.

Darren Clarke came agonisingly close to playing in the final and a repeat of his triumphant encounter with Woods in 2000. Clarke, for the third time in five years, was Europe's last surviving campaigner after reaching the semi-finals but that nothing can be taken for granted in matchplay was amply demonstrated when Clarke lost to Love after being two-up with two to play.

Clarke only survived his first round match with Eduardo Romero by winning two of the last three holes and then winning at the 25th. Against Love in the semi-finals, Clarke recovered from two-down with seven to play helped by birdies at the 14th and 15th before the American bogeyed the 16th to put Clarke two-up.

But the contest was far from finished. Clarke's drive on the 17th bounded down the cart path but from the rough he was unable to make the green and missed a par-putt for victory. At the last, a par-five, Love smashed a magnificent three-wood on to the green and again Clarke missed a putt, this time for birdie, to finish the match.

He did manage to get up and down to halve the 19th and then at the next Love conceded a putt of between two and a half to three feet which Clarke would have had to have holed to continue the match. It was probably the longest putt conceded on the bumpy La Costa greens this week, and Clarke smiled with relief, but Love said it was uphill and straight and no big deal.

The American then ended the interest of the 2000 champion by hitting his tee shot at the 21st, the short 16th, to six feet and making the putt. "Obviously, I'm disappointed to lose after being two-up with two to play," Clarke said.

"Overall Davis played a lot better than me and it will be a much better final with Davis in it against Tiger. I was just grinding away as I have all week." Clarke was being harsh on himself for he produced fine golf in stretches but then the odd rogue shot would come in, hardly unexpected over six rounds. Yesterday Clarke, after being two-down with six to play, beat Australia's Stephen Leaney at the last in the 18-hole playoff for third place to earn $530,000.

WORLD MATCHPLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (La Costa, Carlsbad, California) Semi-finals (US unless stated): T Woods bt S Leaney (Aus) 2 and 1; D Love bt D Clarke (NIrl) at 21st. Third-place play-off: Clarke bt Leaney 2 up. Final: Woods bt Love 3&2.

* Annika Sorenstam opened her European Tour campaign in style by clinching her third ANZ Ladies' Masters - just ahead of England's Karen Stupples - in Australia yesterday. Sorenstam took the title with a 19-under-par total, after shooting 65 in the final two rounds to clinch the £55,000 prize by four shots from Stupples, with the Australian Kylie Pratt in third place on 11 under. For the 30-year-old Stupples, a closing-round 68 over Queensland's Royal Pines Resort earned her second place to give her the best result of a five-year professional career.

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