Golf

Els shock opponent for Donald

2012-02-22 11:07
Ernie Els (AP)

Marana - As the top seed and defending champion, Britain's Luke Donald never expected to face an experienced opponent such as Ernie Els in Wednesday's opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Donald was always going to be drawn against the bottom-ranked player in the elite field of 64 at Dove Mountain, and triple major winner Els ended up in that spot after gaining a late entry to the event.

"Usually in that first-round matchup maybe you get someone with a little less experience that might have snuck his way into the tournament and never played the event before," world number one Donald told reporters after playing a practice round at a sun-splashed Dove Mountain on Tuesday.

"But Ernie has a huge amount of experience. There are no easy opponents this week but certainly to start off he's going to be a tough one to try to beat."

South African Els, who has won the European Tour's World Match Play Championship a record seven times, was gifted a place in the opening World Golf Championships event of the year when American Phil Mickelson withdrew to spend time with his family.

Short game maestro Donald will tee off on Wednesday as a heavy favourite, having never trailed last year in any of his six matches as he went on to clinch his first WGC title.

"I have a lot of great memories here, a lot of great things happened to me after I won here," said the 34-year-old, who beat Germany's Martin Kaymer 3&2 in last year's 36-hole final. "And I'm excited to be back.

"I've always enjoyed match play. I've enjoyed the fact that it's helpful to be consistent, not lose holes carelessly. For whatever reason, the format seems to suit my game."

Donald's Match Play triumph at Dove Mountain last year triggered the best season of his career.

He took over at the top of the rankings on May 30 and won four times worldwide in 2011, including twice on the PGA Tour. He also became the first player to clinch the money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic.

"This was a big win for me in terms of the confidence I gained, not just from winning it, but the way I won it, the style in which I won it," said Donald.

"Without winning here, maybe some of the other wins wouldn't have been possible. It really restored some of my confidence in myself and proved to myself that I could win again."

Asked whether he was prouder of getting to number one for the first time or staying in that position, Donald replied: "Probably staying No 1.

"I've got a lot of great players on my heels. It takes a lot of consistency to get there but it takes an equal amount of consistency to stay there."

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