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Tiger Woods eyes Match Play defence

A possible return to the top of the rankings will provide added incentive for Tiger Woods when he defends his title at this week's World Golf Championships (WGC) Match Play event.

With the exception of number three Ernie Els of South Africa, 64 of the 65 top-ranked players will travel to the La Costa Resort and Spa in rainy southern California hoping to stop Woods going back to number one in the world.

That is a daunting task given the 29-year-old American's early-season form and complete mastery of the match play format.

A fearless competitor who thrives on head-to-head competition, Woods has dominated this event since it began six years ago, claiming back-to-back wins in 2003 and 2004 and finishing runner-up in 2000.

He has a sparkling 20-3 record in the tournament and will carry a 12-match unbeaten run into Wednesday's first-round tussle with Nick Price of Zimbabwe.

"Any time you play match play it is really tough on your mind," said world number two Woods. "It's just an emotional rollercoaster you go through each and every match.

"It's just fun going head-to-head against somebody and always has been. Just look them eyeball-to-eyeball and say, 'let's go'."

For the first time, Woods will arrive in Carlsbad not seeded number one but will fully expect to leave with the title of the world's best player he surrendered to Vijay Singh last season.

As the top four seeds, Singh, Woods, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen will be placed in different groups, with the elite 64-player field divided into four sections.

Singh, already a winner this season at the Sony Open in Hawaii, will take on Japan's Shingo Katayama in his opening match.

The knockout format leaves open the possibility of a mouth-watering final showdown on Sunday between Woods and Singh.

"The great thing about coming back and defending is that you know you've done it before," said Woods. "But anyone can beat anybody at any given time.

"That's one of the things we all understand about match play. You're dealing with the top 64 players in the world, anybody can beat anybody."

The eight-times major winner speaks from experience.

In 2002, Australian Peter O'Malley scored the biggest upset in the tournament's history when he knocked out Woods in the opening round.

Woods, however, has given no indication of a pending collapse. A swing overhaul now complete, he has three wins in his last five worldwide starts.

The American had a chance to reclaim top spot from Singh at the Nissan Open but his chances were washed away when the rain-hit event was shortened to 36 holes on Monday.

Australia's Adam Scott, who claimed the Nissan title in a playoff with American Chad Campbell, also has solid match play credentials and will rank among the contenders having lost in the semi-finals of the 2003 event to Woods.

But the player to beat could well be Mickelson after he posted back-to-back wins at the Phoenix Open and Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this month.


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