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American's struggle again in Match Play

The poor performances of the four United States players competing in last week's World Match Play Championship continued a miserable run for American golf.

Following last month's heavy Ryder Cup defeat by Europe on home soil, Todd Hamilton, Chris Riley, Steve Flesch and Jeff Maggert all lost in the first round at Wentworth.

It completed a wretched few weeks for the U.S. since Vijay Singh ended Tiger Woods's five-year reign as world number one. Woods has since slipped to third behind Wentworth winner Ernie Els.

The Fijian Singh, who also won the U.S. PGA Championship in August, has won eight tournaments and around $9.5 million this year to dominate the sport.

Controversially overlooked in favour of Woods as the U.S. Tour's player of the year in 2003, he looks certain to win the award this season.

Two weeks later Bernhard Langer captained Europe to an 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory over the U.S. at Oakland Hills, one of the most one-sided Ryder Cups in history.

The Americans' supposed crack partnership of Woods and U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson failed to gel on the opening day and Europe romped to victory.

Americans have struggled in the Match Play recently, with Mark O'Meara's 1998 victory their only success in the past 10 years, and Woods, Mickelson and Davis Love III turned down the opportunity to compete for the one million-pound ($1.80 million) first prize, the biggest in the sport.

Keen to have a strong American presence in the tournament anyway, organisers turned to Riley, a member of the defeated Ryder Cup team, Maggert, who has played in three Ryder Cups, and left-hander Flesch to support Hamilton, the British Open champion.

None of the quartet survived the first round, however, with Maggert suffering the biggest defeat in Match Play history when he lost 12&11 to South African Retief Goosen, the U.S. Open champion.

Hamilton lost to Lee Westwood, Flesch to Miguel Angel Jimenez and Riley to Padraig Harrington, the three European Ryder Cup players striking a further blow to American golfing pride after the year starting so brightly with Mickelson's long-awaited first major triumph at the U.S. Masters.

It seems the U.S. Tour is getting concerned about the situation having written a firm letter to Els, who won a record sixth Match Play title on Sunday, demanding that the world number two plays more of their events.

The South African currently splits his time between the U.S. and European tours but PGA officials are keen to keep one of the biggest names in the sport on their side of the Atlantic.

Els, however, seems determined to resist.

"They need to understand the golfing world has changed, there's a world outside America and I'm part of it," he said. "They cannot restrict me from playing where I want to play."

There have been calls too for the world rankings to put more emphasis on European Tour results rather than give so much weight to U.S. PGA Tour finishes which appear to have given them a somewhat lopsided look in favour of mainly American players.

With Singh also very committed to playing around the globe and the European Tour going from strength to strength on the back of a second successive Ryder Cup triumph, the U.S. needs the likes of Woods and Mickelson to inspire a revival in the country's golfing fortunes.

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