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Woods remains the man to beat

IT IS a good job Colin Montgomerie loves playing the West Course at Wentworth so much. For the sixth time in his seven appearances at the Cisco World Match Play Championship, Monty will be in action in tomorrow's first round of the elite 12-man event. "I seem to be seeded five here an awful lot," said the Scot.

A bye to Friday did not help Montgomerie last year - he lost in the second round to Brad Faxon - but in 1994, having already beaten Yoshinori Mizumaki, Nick Faldo and Vijay Singh, it told against him when facing Ernie Els in the final. "We both won three matches, but they gave Ernie the trophy," Monty said.

"Pete Sampras may be the No 1 seed at Wimbledon but he doesn't get to play a match less. This tournament should have either 16 or eight players." With the ground soft underfoot and conditions likely to be poor, Monty has a point. But since Montgomerie is a client of the Mark McCormack's International Management Group, who run the event, the European No 1 quickly assured his audience he was glad to be here.

Eight of the other invitees are also IMG clients and the fact that Monty has been relegated from the lucky four to get a bye tomorrow is not only due to the increased strength of the field - three of the top four and six of the top-11 in the world are present - but IMG's fortune in having the world No 1, Tiger Woods, the Open and Masters champion, Mark O'Meara and the USPGA winner and defending champion, Vijay Singh, on their books.

Singh has been given the No 1 seeding, with the other seedings according to world ranking, with one exception. So while Woods is seeded two, O'Meara, the world No 3, and Els, the world No 4, have been flipped. So Els, a three-times winner, is scheduled to meet Woods in the semi-finals instead of what would be a dream final.

Such things add to a perception that the event should be renamed the "IMG Invitational". With a new World Match Play Championship for the world's top 64 players being introduced next year with $1m (pounds 600,000) for the winner, Wentworth's once impressive looking pounds 170,000 first prize, is now lagging behind the majors and other events in Europe and the US.

But as well as a history dating back to 1964, this tournament still has the attraction of the classic format of 36-hole matchplay. "Over 18 holes, anything can happen," said Montgomerie. "I've been known to lose to a Paraguayan, an Indian and last week a Chinaman," he added.

Those defeats were over medal-matchplay at St Andrews, but Montgomerie's record in straight matchplay is considerable. He is unbeaten in Ryder Cup singles and won the Andersen Consulting event at the start of the year. If there was a ranking strictly for matchplay, Monty would put himself higher than the sixth he is on the official version.

But Woods would be No 1 on both. "He is the best player in the world and favourite for every event he enters," Montgomerie said.

DRAW AND TEE-OFF TIMES: O845 and 1300 (8) S Stricker (US) v P Sjoland (Swe). Winner to play (1) V Singh (Fiji). 0900 and 1315 (5) C Montgomerie (GB) v T Bjorn (Den). Winner to play (4) M O'Meara (US). 0915 and 1330 (6) L Westwood (GB) v S Appleby (Aus). Winner to play (3) E Els (SA). 0930 and 1345 (7) D Clarke (GB) v I Woosnam (GB). Winner to play (2) T Woods (US).

Numbers in brackets indicate

seeded positions