Tired Perez first up for Harrington in Arizona

 

JUST WHEN Pádraig Harrington thought there was no end to the bad news, his rival in tomorrow’s first round of the WGC-Accenture Matchplay Championship is a local boy. But he did claim he is exhausted after a six-week road trip.

Temperamental Pat Perez, the 32-year-old who finally made headlines for the right reasons when he broke his PGA Tour duck in last month’s Bob Hope Classic, won’t turn up at the Ritz-Carlton GC at Dove Mountain, Arizona, until today.

Harrington hailed the Phoenix native as “a man in form” when he learned they were to clash in Tucson.

And after missing successive cuts on the West Coast swing, the Dubliner may just have the edge over the man they call “Double P” on a 7,800-yard, Jack Nicklaus design that hosts the first World Golf Championship of the season.

Down one place to fourth in the world behind Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Los Angeles Open winner Phil Mickelson, the Dubliner will have played 36 holes of practice by the time he tees it up against a teak-tough opponent who is something of a desert specialist.

Yet Perez – famous for making an obscene gesture at his golf ball and breaking a club over his knee in a 2002 Pebble Beach Pro-Am meltdown – insists he is running on empty.

“That was good,” Perez said of his Bob Hope win as he finished 30th at Riviera on Sunday. “But I need some rest. I’ve be on the road six weeks now and next week’s my seventh. So I’m going to get home tonight and take tomorrow off, get some rest and try and get my game back in shape. I’ve been kinda off for the last couple of weeks.”

The American with Irish roots made his Accenture Matchplay debut in Tucson last year, taking Mickelson to the 18th. Against Harrington, he plans to take a strokeplay approach and hope he’s far enough ahead on the back nine to close out the match.

“I don’t believe in the messing with ‘the other guy’ thing,” he said. “I’ll just try to hit good shots; hit it close. If you make putts you’re going to win. You’ve got to make putts early. Play well on the front nine. Try and get yourself in the lead and put it away.”

Perez can claim Irish roots as his mother, Patricia White, is the Italian-Irish daughter of an Irish mother. “And I’m half,” Perez said. “She wanted an Irish name. So I’m Patrick.”

Ireland will have three runners in Tucson, with Rory McIlroy, down one place to 17th in the world rankings, taking on his International Sports Management stablemate Louis Oosthuizen, and Graeme McDowell facing 2007 US Masters champion Zach Johnson.

Despite his collapse at Riviera, where he had to settle for a share of 41st place after dropping four strokes over the last four holes, McDowell fancies his chances.

“It’s going to be my first one in a few years and I am looking forward to it,” said McDowell, who lost to Vijay Singh in the first round on his last appearance in 2006. “Yeah, he’s got a green jacket, but anybody is beatable on their day.”

Woods will return to action after eight months out of the game when he faces Australian Brendan Jones, while Mickelson must beat Angel Cabrera if he is to take on the winner of the McDowell-Johnson match on Thursday.

The left-hander retained the Los Angeles Open by a shot from Steve Stricker to jump from fifth to third in the world. But it was a roller-coaster final round that featured a major wobble, and he knows he must become a better frontrunner if he is to catch Woods and become world number one.

Four clear after his incredible 62 on Saturday, he resumed with an eagle, but then had five bogeys and trailed Stricker by two with three holes to play. But Stricker bogeyed the last and Mickelson birdied the 16th and 17th to win and close the gap on Woods in the rankings to just 2.22 points.

“It gives me confidence and something to build on for the rest of the year,” Mickelson said. “I certainly have some work to do, but at least I’m on the right path.”

As for the return of Woods this week, Mickelson added: “We need him back. We’re all excited to have him back and we’re excited he’s going to be 100 per cent. From a player’s point of view it’s going to be harder to win tournaments, but we love the challenge.”

(US unless stated,

last week’s positions in brackets)

World rankings

1 (1) Tiger Woods 9.61 ave pts

2 (2) Sergio Garcia (Spa) 7.87

3 (5) Phil Mickelson 7.39

4 (3) Pádraig Harrington (Ire) 6.25

5 (4) Vijay Singh (Fij) 6.13

6 (6) Henrik Stenson (Swe) 5.11

7 (7) Robert Karlsson (Swe) 5.08

8 (8) Geoff Ogilvy (Aus) 5.00

9 (10) Kenny Perry 4.74

10 (9) Camilo Villegas (Col) 4.71

17 (16) Rory McIlroy (N Ire) 3.78