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Wet weather delays World Match Play

This is shaping up as the Wet Coast Swing.

First, heavy rain at Riviera led to the first 36-hole event on the PGA Tour in nine years. On Tuesday, officials delayed the start of the Match Play Championship to give La Costa Resort a chance to drain.

The first round of 18-hole matches now will start Thursday, followed by two rounds each day through Saturday and the 36-hole final match Sunday.

``Whatever day we start, I'll be ready to go,'' two-time defending champion Tiger Woods said.

It was the latest twist in the West Coast Swing on the PGA Tour, which already has featured a fog delay at Torrey Pines, a wind delay in Phoenix and a total washout Saturday at the Nissan Open, which eventually led to the tournament being cut short to 36 holes when more rain fell Monday.

But the rearranged schedule in the Accenture Match Play Championship should be nothing new for Woods.

He barely got through the first round last year against John Rollins, then the second day of matches was postponed because of heavy rain that had water sprawling out of the banks in the ponds and creeks.

Woods and Davis Love III had to play two matches Friday and Saturday, then the 36-hole final in which Woods closed him out, 3 and 2.

``If you get all the way to the finals, it's a physical grind,'' Woods said Tuesday morning, before the announcement that the first round had been delayed. ``Match play is an emotional roller coaster, because of the momentum switches that can happen in one hole, two holes.''

Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, there is no such thing as an upset at La Costa.

Last year was the first time in the six-year history of this World Golf Championship event that two of the top-four seeds made it to the last match.

Jeff Maggert won the first year as the No. 24 seed, followed by Darren Clarke (No. 19), Steve Stricker (No. 55) and Kevin Sutherland (No. 62). Woods won the last two years as the top seed, although he starts this time at No. 2.

Vijay Singh is the No. 1 seed and will play Shingo Katayama of Japan.

``He's a good player. I don't know how he's playing coming into this event, but I have to treat him very strong,'' Singh said. ``I'm going to go out and see if I can play my game and play the best I can and see if I can finish it off.''

Singh is coming off his first missed cut in a year, as defending champion at Pebble Beach. No one misses the cut from the 64-man field at La Costa, although this event has not been kind to the 41-year-old Fijian. He has never advanced out of the second round, even against a watered-down field in Australia four years ago.

So while most players like the idea of match play during a full schedule of stroke play, Singh was indifferent.

``I don't mind it,'' he said. ``I think it depends on how you play. Last year, I didn't play very well. I'm driving the ball much better than I did last year, and I've fixed my irons.''

Ernie Els, at No. 3 in the world, is the only player who elected not to come.

The Big Easy has never liked La Costa, and his results explain why. He has never advanced out of the second round on this soggy, San Diego County course, and decided he was better off staying home in South African then flying halfway around the world to play as few as 18 holes.

The seeding was determined by the world ranking from a week ago. Woods plays Nick Price, while third-seeded Phil Mickelson faces Loren Roberts and fourth-seeded Retief Goosen opens with Stephen Leaney.

All they could do Tuesday was hit balls on the range, although a few players were on the course.

PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell said La Costa would be available for practice rounds Wednesday, but the staff did not think the course was suitable for competition.

``It's totally saturated,'' Russell said. ``But based on this weather forecast, it's going to get nothing but better. If we get a day of sunshine and breeze, it will get dramatically better, and we're going to present a better golf course for the players.''

Mickelson lives about 20 miles away in Rancho Santa Fe, and because he did not play last week in the Nissan Open, he played a couple of practice rounds at La Costa.

He lost to Love in the quarterfinals last year on the 18th hole, his best showing in the Match Play Championship. Lefty is coming off back-to-back wins on the PGA Tour by wide margins, although that won't do him any good this week.

He shot 73 in the first round at Phoenix, then rebounded with a career-low 60. Had that been match play, Mickelson probably would not have advanced out of the first round. A week later, he opened with a course-record 62 at Spyglass, closed with a 73 and still won by four shots.

``I would have been knocked out the first round half the time at Phoenix,'' Mickelson said. ``And at AT&T, I would have done great all the way through and the last match have been knocked out. In match play ... you need some luck to win. You can play well, but you're not going to play well six rounds in a row.''

Right now, all they want to do is play.

 

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