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Woods faces Garcia in "Battle of Bighorn" tonight

Perhaps the people putting together Tiger Woods's latest prime-time show should have waited a little longer to pick his opponent.

Imagine Bob May and Woods going at it in a real "Battle of Bighorn."

That's not what ABC viewers will get Monday night when Woods returns to prime time after a year of winning almost everything in the daytime. Instead, he'll face Spain's Sergio Garcia in a scheduled 18-hole made-for-television match.

Garcia was picked long before May staged his thrilling and memorable duel with Woods in the PGA Championship. And the mediocre way Garcia has played this year has done nothing to boost any claim to a budding rivalry with Woods.

That leaves little at stake at Bighorn Golf Club except some television ratings and $1.5 million in prize money in an event that is more packaged entertainment than competition.

Oh, and a bit of pride, too.

"I'm not going to lay down for him, that's for sure,'' said Woods, who earned $1 million today with an 11-stroke victory in the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

It's not likely to match the drama of the PGA, where Woods and May went head-to-head down the stretch at Valhalla Golf Club. But it is a chance for viewers to bond again with Woods in a show that begins at 8 p.m. EDT.

It worked last year, when Woods beat David Duval in the inaugural match, and enough people tuned in to give it a 6.9 national rating and a 12 share. And ABC is hoping it will work again, although it was CBS that televised the real drama in the PGA only eight days ago.

"That's why we're playing -- to get people involved in the game,'' Woods said.

Well, not entirely.

For what will be 3 1/2 hours or less work at Bighorn, the winner will take home $1.1 million, while the loser will have to console himself with $400,000.

While Duval was competitive last year -- losing 2-and-1 at Sherwood Country Club -- this year's match at first glance appears to be more of a mismatch. Garcia has not won this year, and struggled over the weekend in the Reno-Tahoe Open while Woods was dominating the far more prestigious NEC Invitational.

Garcia got the nod largely because he is also represented by the IMG sports agency that handles Woods, and because his enthusiastic play on the course might add a spark missing with the wooden Duval last year.

"He's young, charismatic,'' Woods said. "Even though he hasn't played up to his standards, he's still playing good enough. And in a match play situation, anything can happen. That's the beauty of it.''

Of course, the way Woods has played this year, pairing him with anyone might be considered a mismatch.

Not that the final score of the made-for-television event matters much, anyway. Like the old Shell Wonderful World of Golf matches, it is merely a showcase.

"I think that people like to watch Tiger play and like to watch Sergio play, too,'' Garcia said. "It is good for golf and good for us.''

That might have been different a year ago, when Garcia took Woods down the stretch in the 1999 PGA Championship before losing by a shot. At the time, Garcia was widely heralded as Woods's new rival, though he has done little since to claim that honor.

Last year's "Showdown at Sherwood'' at least paired Woods and Duval, who was the No. 2 player at the time. It was the first prime-time golf match and held viewers despite having to fill time between shots with taped interviews and information about the Met Life blimp.

The first two holes of Monday's match will be taped before the show actually goes live, and lights have been set up on the finishing holes in case the match goes the distance under darkening desert skies.

Unlike last year, plans are to have live microphones on the players, although Woods doesn't usually engage in much idle chitchat in any competition.

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