Match Play: Poulter’s early time, Ryo’s army

Ian Poulter signs autographs Monday at the Ritz-Carlton Club in Marana, Ariz., site of this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

MARANA, Ariz. – And for being the defending champion, Mr. Ian Poulter, you get the honor of playing in the first match of the 2011 Accenture Match Play Championship.

At 7:25 Wednesday morning.

When the temperature will be on the south side of 40 degrees.

Your reaction, please?

“I don’t think it makes any difference,” he said.

But when he conceded he and his opponent, Stewart Cink, would need “to have the mitts on for the front nine,” the Englishman was asked to brush aside the diplomatic answer and say what he really thought when he saw the draw.

Poulter smiled, and said, “Holy . . . is that what time I’m off? I mean it (will be) early, you know. It’s going to be cold, you know. I’m a Floridian.”

Sure, we’re in the desert, but the mornings and evenings this time of year out here remind you that’s winter in America. No, they’re not anticipating frost delays like they had at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but like Poulter said, get the winter wardrobe out for those early matches.

“Hopefully, you’re a couple up the first nine holes.”

When a reporter reminded Poulter that it could be a very short title defense, that he could be ousted by 11:30 in the morning, there was a quiet pause, then a wide smile.

“Could be on an airplane (home) by mid-afternoon, I guess. Thanks for that,” Poulter said. “I hadn’t really thought about that until you just mentioned it, but thanks. Well done.”

• • •

At 7:15 Tuesday morning, you could see your breath in the mountain air. You could also see just one player on the range hitting balls – Ryo Ishikawa.

And if Ishikawa was hitting balls, surely a small army of photographers couldn’t be far behind, right?

How about 6 feet behind . . . sprawled out on the dew-soaked Dove Mountain turf? Three photographers, in fact, held that position for several minutes, securing unique camera angles of the phenom.

Nothing like getting up before dawn to lay down on wet grass.

• • •

Ruben Yario only works for the longest of the long hitters, it seems.

Well, not actually, but going from Angel Cabrera to Alvaro Quiros gives the veteran caddie from Argentina another job carrying for a guy who can hit it across state borders.

With Cabrera having re-hired his old caddie, Eddie Gardino, Yario was back home in Argentina when he got the call to join up with Quiros, the colorful Spaniard. Call it a case of perfect timing, because Quiros won the Dubai Desert Classic, which was a nice way to re-enter. We say re-enter because there’s a bit of history to the Quiros-Yario team.

It was 2008 and Quiros had received a sponsor exemption into his first PGA Tour event, the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. Yario got the call and Quiro went on to finish T-28.

• • •

When Tim Clark, the 22nd-ranked player in the world, withdrew, it opened up a spot in the field for No. 66 J.B. Holmes.

That brought something to mind: For all the talk of European stars and the alleged shifting of power, it should be noted that there are 25 Americans in the field of 64. The next-highest total for any country is six – for both England and Australia.

Last year, only 15 Americans were in the field.

Then again, last year featured four non-Americans in the semifinals (Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Camilo Villegas, Sergio Garcia) and then there’s this to show how the world golf landscape has changed: When this touranment debuted in 1999, the first round featured 11 matches between two Americans. This year, there are only five matches in Round 1 between two Americans.

• • •

Some of this, a little of that: Eight players in this year’s field were on hand for the debut of this tournament 12 years ago. The only thing is, it’s a bad memory for five of them, because they all lost in Round 1 – Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els. Phil Mickelson and Stewart Cink lost in the third round that year, Tiger Woods in the quarterfinals to eventual champ Jeff Maggert. ... The gap from the first match to the last (Zach Johnson vs. Justin Rose) is 5 hours, 10 minutes. ... Mickelson has played in 10 of the previous 12 Accenture Match Play Championships, accumulating a 13-10 record. He has lost in the first round three times, but those were the first three in which he played. Since 2003, Mickelson has made it to the second round twice, third round four times, and quarterfinals once. The 10 who’ve beat Mickelson: Eduardo Romero, Billy Mayfair, John Cook, Jerry Kelly, Davis Love, David Toms, David Howell, Justin Rose, Stuart Appleby and Cink. ... Former champions of the event who are in the field: Stricker, Woods (three times), Geoff Ogilvy (twice), Henrik Stenson and Poulter. ... Of the 12 players who are playing in the tournament for the first time, four will face each other in Round 1 – Jason Day vs. Kim Kyung-tae, Bill Haas vs. Bubba Watson. ... Mark Wilson, who earned his way here via his PGA Tour wins at the Sony Open and Waste Management Phoenix Open, is in the record books as the loser of the 1992 U.S. Junior Amateur final to a guy by the name of Woods. What’s stunning, Wilson said, is the reality that “I think it’s the last time I’ve played match play,” Wilson said. “I never made match play in the U.S. Amateur and can’t remember playing it since.”

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