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Opening Drive

Big names topple as World Matchplay Championship gets underway

Defending champion Ian Poulter, World number three Tiger Woods, and Padraig Harrington all fell to first-round defeats in Arizona yesterday.

TIGER WOODS’ TORRID run of form continues to dominate the golfing headlines as the World number three crashed out at the first hurdle of the World Matchplay Championship.

Paired against Thomas Bjorn for the opening round of play, Woods blew any chance he had of progressing when a wayward drive cost him the first additional hole of his match against the Dane.

This weekend had been earmarked as a key milestone on the road to Tiger’s recovery, with many pundits predicting that the erratic form which he has been displaying of late would not be as costly in a matchplay tournament.

Woods’ post-match comments yesterday were laced with disappointment, suggesting that he also believed that this could have been a big weekend for him

I was trying to hit a ball in play. The fairway is what? Two hundred yards wide? And I can’t even put the ball in the fairway. That’s very disappointing.

There were mixed fortunes for Ireland’s representatives  yesterday with Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy safely booking their place in today’s second round while Padraig Harrington failed to progress.

McDowell saw off American Heath Slocum with a 4&3 victory while McIlroy only needed a par on 16 to close out his 4&2 victory against Jonathan Byrd.

Speaking afterwards, the young Ulsterman also had a cheeky dig at Woods’ recent run of form.

I don’t think Tiger and Phil have got any … well, yeah, I mean I don’t think Phil has gotten any worse.

Tiger isn’t as dominant as he used to be, and Phil won the Masters last year.

Meanwhile, Harrington will be desperately disappointed after losing a tough opening fixture against Australian Geoff Ogilvy. Ogilvy, who is something of a matchplay specialist having won this tournament in 2006 and 2009, ultimately proved to be too strong, winning the match 4&3.

The Dubliner may find some consolation in the fact that he is among exalted company in the first-round losers. An early tee-off time did nothing to help defending champion Ian Poulter who lost to Stewart Cink at the first additional hole, while 17-year-old Italian Matteo Manassero pulled off the shock of the round when he defeated 2001 champion Steve Stricker 2&1.

The tournament continues this afternoon when McDowell takes on Ross Fisher while McIlroy is up against Ben Crane. While you’re waiting for the players to take the course in Arizona, here are some of yesterday’s highlights.