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Tiger looking to defend Match Play title

Tiger Woods will launch his title defence in this week's WGC-World Match Play Championship at La Costa Resort and Spa, California under mounting pressure to perform.

Twelve months ago, the world number one was halfway towards a run of three victories in his first four starts of the year, following a month-long layoff after knee surgery.

This season, however, he has failed to win in his first three tournaments and his long-established grip on the game is widely perceived to have relaxed, with rivals like Vijay Singh and Ernie Els appearing to have closed the gap.

However Woods, who failed to clinch a major title last year for the first time since 1998, was in reasonably upbeat mood after a closing seven-under-par 64 lifted him into a tie for seventh at the Nissan Open on Sunday.

"I hit it closer and made a few putts," the 28-year-old American said on his official website. "More importantly, I finally hit my irons better.

"My goal starting out was either get in the top 10 or build some positive momentum going into this week."

Woods, who beat David Toms 2 and 1 in last year's World Match Play Championship final, will meet fellow American John Rollins in Wednesday's first round.

"I may have played with John once," he said. "I know he hits it very long and is a good left-to-right player. In 18 holes, anything could happen, so it's important to get off to a good start."

The Match Play Championship, the first of the year's four WGC events, is limited to the top 64 players in the game and Woods has been seeded one.

He has always relished the cut and thrust of match-play golf, and is well aware of the format's unpredictability.

"I mean, you could hit the ball like an absolute chop, but if you make putts and put pressure on your opponent, you can wear him down that way," he said.

Three players have already withdrawn from this week's event, including world number three Ernie Els and sixth-ranked Jim Furyk.

Three-times major winner Els pulled out for personal reasons last Friday, preferring to spend time in England with his daughter Samantha who is starting her first year of school.

U.S. Open champion Furyk has withdrawn because of torn cartilage in his left wrist while fellow American Kirk Triplett misses out because of a friend's wedding.

Barring no further withdrawals, world number two Vijay Singh will take on Japan's Shingo Katayama in the opening round while U.S. Masters champion Mike Weir, winner of the Nissan Open on Sunday, comes up against 2002 U.S. PGA champion Rich Beem.

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