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Withdrawals reduce Matchplay's creditability

Some of the best golfers in the world have made a mockery of the $9.5 million match-play championship starting at Melbourne's Metropolitan course next week.

With the deadlines for entries closed, 38 players eligible to compete in the so-called elite 64-man event have snubbed Australia.

Even allowing for the poor timing of the event – which means overseas players would be away from home during the traditional holiday period – it is a snub of gigantic proportions and shows what a pampered breed the professionals have become.

The tournament will still boast a quality field by Australian standards but it is by far the most inferior to contest a world championship of golf event since the series was introduced a couple of years ago to combat the threat of a world tour.

Not even the two previous winners – Jeff Maggert and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke – will travel to Australia.

"It's a major disappointment as I was really looking forward to defending my title," Clarke said.

"But in the circumstances I need to be with my family."

He did not elaborate.

Only four of the top 10 are travelling to Melbourne – the world No. 2 Ernie Els, American Hal Sutton (No. 8), Masters champion Vijay Singh (No. 9) and Tom Lehman (No. 10).

We will not see Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Davis Love III and Colin Montgomerie.

Duval committed to the championship about five weeks ago but withdrew last week.

The main drawback is the poor date given to the tournament by PGA tour commis- sioner Tim Finchem who has already admitted it was a mistake to move the match-play event to Australia in the holiday season.

Players are reluctant to travel to Australia just to be eliminated in the first round and then travel home again.

The previous two match-play championships were played in late February at La Costa Resort, north of Santiago.

Both times Japan's Jumbo Osaki was the only eligible player who chose not to play.

Australian Stuart Appleby – one of four locals in the event with Robert Allenby, Greg Chalmers and Craig Parry – said he could understand why many of the overseas players had pulled out.

Appleby has done his utmost during the year to lure them to Metropolitan.

"We are still going to have a worthy winner and a great tournament," Appleby said.

"But I've become the self-appointed travel agent for Australia, telling everybody about everything you can do here.

"We will have a great tournament on a great course, Metropolitan, where the fairways make Augusta National look like your backyard."

Leading European players Lee Westwood, Jesper Parnevik, Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal and Thomas Bjorn have also opted to bypass Metropolitan.

Others from the US tour who will skip the tournament are Greg Norman, Nick Price, Mike Weir, Fred Couples and Paul Azinger.

West Australian Nick O'Hearn, ranked 103 in the world, is the first alternate for a spot in the field should there be any more withdrawals.

Peter O'Malley and Stephen Leane are third and fourth on the emergency list.

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