- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MARANA, ARIZ. (AP) - More than ever, the World Golf Championships are living up to their name.

The series enters its 13th year when the Match Play Championship gets under way Wednesday at Dove Mountain with Lee Westwood of England as the fifth player to occupy the No. 1 seed in the 64-man field.

There are players from 15 countries, which is not unusual or even a record. But as the boundaries of golf become more blurred, there is a certain vibe in the high desert north of Tucson that a rivalry is taking shape _ not between two players, but two continents.

The Americans have the most players in the 64-man field with 25.

The Europeans have the highest-ranked players _ eight of the top 16 seeds, led by Westwood and Martin Kaymer.

And it was only last year when Ian Poulter defeated Paul Casey in an all-England championship match, the first year that no Americans reached the semifinals since the Accenture Match Play Championship began in 1999. That kicked off a golden year for Europe, in which it won the Ryder Cup and had two players win majors.

“It might have been a surprise to some, but it certainly hasn’t been a surprise if you look at the rankings over the last couple of years, at how well the European players have played,” Poulter said. “It would surprise me at all to see something similar happen this year with how you look at the world rankings. European players are very, very strong.”

Fueling the seeds of a rivalry were the decisions of Westwood, Kaymer and Rory McIlroy _ all among the top 10 in the world _ not to take up PGA Tour membership this year. Westwood and McIlroy later said they wouldn’t not go to The Players Championship, the richest tournament in golf with traditionally the strongest and deepest field.

Graeme McDowell thinks some of it is overcooked.

“Of course, the European Tour is very protective of their tour, and the PGA is very protective of their tour, and they should be,” he said. “Everyone has their personal preferences of where they want to play and how much they want to play. I think there’s maybe been a little bit of media blowing it up into something it’s not.

“I don’t think there’s any antagonism there,” McDowell said. “The best players in the world want to play against each other as often as possible.”

The players are going about their own business this week, and Kaymer spoke well when asked if he were representing Germany or the European Tour at the Match Play Championship.

“Representing myself,” he said, sitting behind four small, German flags. “I belong to both, obviously more to Germany.”

And while players are worried only about getting past the match in front of them, there is no denying a certain pride among Europeans to get as many players as deep into the tournament as they can. It means more to Europe than it does the United States, mainly because the PGA Tour is a melting pot of just about every golfing nation.

If there is a rivalry, it will be difficult to ignore on opening day at Dove Mountain.

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