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Last Updated: Monday, 11 September 2006, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Return of Woods delights Player
  • Live coverage on BBC2 from 1300 BST on Thursday

    By Rob Hodgetts

    Tiger Woods
    Woods lost in the final in his only Match Play appearance in 1998

    Gary Player has praised Tiger Woods for appearing at this week's World Match Play Championship at Wentworth.

    The world number one has not played in the former invitational event since losing in the final in 1998.

    The quality of fields has dwindled in recent years with a host of the game's top stars declining to attend.

    "It's wonderful that Woods is playing," Player told BBC Sport. "I've been quite disgusted - in the last 10 years the fields have been pitiful."

    The event was developed by International Management Group founder Mark McCormack in 1964, and grew into one of the most prestigious invitational competitions in golf.

    In 2003 it was revamped, with a 16-man line-up, based on performances in the four majors as well as a European Tour points table, competing for a first prize of 1m.

    All the top players should be playing around the world to promote the game

    Gary Player

    But recent fields have still suffered, with only one member of the world's top 10 and no Americans present in 2005.

    South Africa's Player, 70, who won the World Match Play five times between 1965 and 1973, insists the world's top stars have a duty to promote the game worldwide.

    "That was one of the great tournaments of my career," said Player. "All the best players in the world played. You had Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Tony Lema, Peter Thomson.

    "But they play for too much money these days. There's so much money they become insular.

    "Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and I, we never used to get these big sums of money but we wanted to promote golf around the world.

    "And that's why I take my hat off to Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Tiger Woods because these three fellows really promote golf around the world.

    Woods seems to mesmerise these guys and nobody seems to be pushing him in the majors - it's very anticlimactic and quite sad

    Gary Player

    "And so they should. Golf has made them multimillionaires and they owe golf a debt. All the top players should be playing around the world to promote the game."

    This year's field contains six of the world's top 10, with Masters champion Phil Mickelson, US Open winner Geoff Ogilvy and Spain's Sergio Garcia, of those having qualified, declining to attend.

    Woods is seeded second at Wentworth, behind New Zealand's defending champion Michael Campbell, but Player makes the American the firm favourite.

    And Player is coming round to thinking that Woods will break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles. Woods is second on the list with 12 after winning the Open and USPGA this year.

    "I've always said I didn't think he would, though I've always said if anyone can, it's Tiger Woods," said Player, who won nine majors and is one of only five players to have completed a career Grand Slam of all four.

    "To win a tournament in America today is tougher than when we played. We had 60 guys that could win, they have 100.

    "But it was definitely tougher for Nicklaus to win a major. When he won everybody usually took him to the wire, we weren't scared of him.

    "But Woods seems to mesmerise these guys and nobody seems to be pushing him in the majors. It's very anticlimactic and quite sad.

    "So I'm beginning to think he will break the record, but he's still got to win another seven and that's not easy."


    World Match Play draw:
    (1) Michael Campbell v (16) Simon Khan
    (8) David Howell v (9) Colin Montgomerie
    (5) Retief Goosen v (12) Paul Casey
    (4) Adam Scott v (13) Mike Weir
    (3) Jim Furyk v (14) Robert Karlsson
    (6) Ernie Els v (11) Angel Cabrera
    (7) Luke Donald v (10) Tim Clark
    (2) Tiger Woods v (15) Shaun Micheel


  • SEE ALSO
    TV and radio golf coverage
    14 Apr 06 |  Golf


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