Golf: Woods happy to play games

Tiger Woods set off today in a bid to win one of the few big titles to have eluded him so far.

Tiger Woods set off today in a bid to win one of the few big titles to have eluded him so far.

And golf’s greatest star has admitted that if gamesmanship is needed at the Accenture World Match Play Championship in California then do not count him out.

Without going into any details, Woods says that there is more to golf at a professional level than hitting 300-yard drives and holing 30-foot putts.

Asked on the eve of the event at La Costa how much of a factor gamesmanship is he replied: ‘‘Well, it’s part of the game.

‘‘It’s part of playing match play. I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen - it does happen out there.

‘‘Some of the players don’t play it. Some of them do, but I’m not going to tell you the secrets.’’

Pressed on whether he used any tricks, Woods added: ‘‘Yeah. I think it’s common in stroke play as well, but less common than it is in match play.’’

At the 1991 Ryder Cup Paul Azinger accused Seve Ballesteros of being ‘‘the king of gamesmanship’’ - and that on a day when it was Azinger and his partner Chip Beck who broke the match rules by switching the type of ball they were using against Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

What upset Azinger was Ballesteros’ constant coughing and what he and others thought was the Spaniard’s habit of standing or practising his putting where it could be a distraction to an opponent.

No row like that has erupted since and things like walking slowly against someone who likes to play quickly is virtually accepted now as a legitimate tactic.

Woods opened today against Australian Peter O’Malley, last man into the elite 64-strong field following the withdrawal last week of Argentina’s Jose Coceres, unable to recover in time from a broken leg suffered playing football during the winter.

This is the fourth staging of the championship, but only the third appearance by Woods. Like most of the game’s leading lights he chose not to travel to Melbourne in the first week of January last year.

Beaten in the quarter-finals by eventual winner Jeff Maggert in 1999, Woods reached the final back at La Costa two years ago, but then was well beaten four and three by Ireland’s Darren Clarke.

In every other respect the introduction of the world championship series has been a personal benefit for the 26-year-old American.

He has won all three NEC Invitationals in Akron, an American Express championship at Valderrama and in two World Cups under the series umbrella won once and lost a play-off in the other.

His total earnings from the four events, now entering their fourth season, are already approaching $6m (€6.8m).

Thirteen Europeans are among those trying to stop Woods from justifying his favourite tag, but none can face him until Saturday’s quarter-finals at the earliest.

Clarke was the first of them into action today against Matt Gogel, a winner on the US Tour at the start of the month.

Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Phil Price all face American opponents as well in Scott McCarron, Steve Flesch, Joe Durant and Davis Love respectively, while Lee Westwood was up against Japan’s Shingo Katayama - with Phil Mickelson possibly next - and Paul Lawrie played Canadian Mike Weir.

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