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Dream pairing for the first round - Tiger against Faldo

This looks like the kind of match the PGA Tour envisioned when it announced the creation of the Match Play Championship three years ago -- Tiger Woods against Nick Faldo. Only it won't be the final round with $1 million on the line.

Faldo, the three-time Masters and British Open champion, will face Woods in the first round of the $5 million tournament next week, the first of three World Golf Championship events.

The pairing in the field of the top 64 players in the Official World Golf Ranking is contingent on No. 14 Jumbo Ozaki not playing. PGA Tour officials say they have been told Ozaki, who rarely leaves Japan, will not enter.

Faldo barely hung on to the 65th spot in the rankings released Monday, which were used to select the field. Woods, meanwhile, solidified his No. 1 ranking by winning the Buick Invitational on Sunday.

David Duval, who took the week off to ski in Idaho, is No. 2 and will play Stephen Leaney of Australia in the first round. Mark O'Meara and Davis Love III were tied for No. 3, but O'Meara gets the third seed because he has more points in the current year of the two-year ranking system.

O'Meara will play Michael Bradley. Love gets Steve Pate, with a possible third-round showdown with good friend Fred Couples should both win their first two matches at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif.

Other notable first-round matches include Greg Norman against John Cook and Ernie Els against Paul Azinger.

Azinger and Craig Stadler were tied at No. 59, but Azinger is seeded higher because his record is stronger over the past year, leaving Stadler to play Colin Montgomerie.

No pairing, however, is as tantalising as Woods and Faldo.

They have played only two rounds together, three including a best-ball match in the Ryder Cup.

Both were out of contention in the final round of The Players Championship in 1997. They downplayed the pairing, although the fact they rarely spoke to each other made it clear it meant something to them.

On one par-3, Faldo hit first to 15 feet and then placed his hand over his clubs so Woods wouldn't be able to tell which club he used. Faldo was up four strokes at the turn, but shot 40 on the back nine and wound up ahead by only one stroke, 72-73.

"I'm not talking about him," Faldo said after the round.

They were paired again two weeks later in the first round of the Masters -- Faldo as the defending champion, Woods as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion.

Faldo three-putted five times for a 41 on the front and shot 75, missing the cut the next day. Woods had a 40 on the front nine, but he was 22-under over his final 63 holes, winning by 12 strokes with a record 18-under 270.

In the Ryder Cup two years ago, Faldo and Lee Westwood beat Woods and Mark O'Meara 3-and-1.

They will come into the Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship from both ends of the spectrum. Woods widened his gap over Duval in world ranking by winning the Buick Invitational in San Diego, making eagle on the last hole for a two-stroke victory.

Faldo, in one of the worst slumps of his Hall of Fame career, has missed the cut in two European tour events this year, including last week in the Dubai Desert Classic.

But he is still dangerous in match play, having won more Ryder Cup matches than anyone.

"Between two good professionals on their day, it's anybody's game over 18 holes," Faldo has said.

Woods may be the best American in match play. He is the only player to win three straight U.S. Amateur titles. He lost 1-down to O'Meara in the World Match Play in England last fall, then won the PGA Grand Slam -- match play between the winners of the last year's majors (Woods was the alternate because O'Meara won two majors).

The dream pairing almost didn't come off when Faldo missed the cut in Dubai.

Greg Turner could have tied for third with one other player in the Australian Masters to move up to No. 65. He was tied for the lead at one point Sunday, but wound up in a three-way tie for third. He will be first alternate at La Costa.

David Toms could have moved up to No. 65 with a three-way tie for seventh in the Buick Invitational. Toms had a 12-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole that would have given him seventh place alone, but he missed and finished in a five-way tie for seventh.

Chris Perry had to finish second in the Buick. He closed with a 66 but finished fourth, five strokes behind runner-up Billy Ray Brown.

For Faldo, the Match Play is more than a chance to play Woods. Last place alone is worth $25,000, which would help him accumulate valuable Ryder Cup points. Points for the European team are based on official money.