- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

MARANA, ARIZ. (AP) - Ian Poulter certainly felt like the defending champion at the Match Play Championship. He is featured prominently on the cover of the program. His name and picture is on banners along with other World Golf Championship winners. There even was a Facebook promotion in which fans picked his outfits for the week.

Those feelings ended, however, when Poulter looked at the starting times.

Poulter plays Stewart Cink in the first of 32 matches Wednesday, on the tee at 7:25 a.m. MST with a chill in the air.

“I was a little surprised,” Poulter said. “I wasn’t expecting to be out first. I mean, 7:25, defending champion. How many people are going to be through the gates at 7:00 in the morning?”

He said that during his press conference. But what was his initial reaction?

“You don’t know what to know,” he said, although he soon obliged _ “Holy … is that what time I’m off?”

Nothing personal, Poults.

The starting times are based strictly by the player’s seeding and his location in the bracket. The No. 12 seed overall has been the leadoff match every year since the Accenture Match Play Championship moved to Arizona in 2007.

Poulter is the No. 12 seed.

“I mean, it was early, you know?” Poulter said. “It’s cold. I’m a Floridian, come on!”

Tiger Woods is the only player to successfully defend in the Match Play Championship. Geoff Ogilvy came close, losing in the championship match to Henrik Stenson in 2007.

Three defending champions have been eliminated in the first round, all in the first three years of the tournament _ Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke and Steve Stricker. Maggert holds the dubious distinction of having the shortest tenure as the defending champion. He only made it 13 holes before losing to Bob Tway in 2000.

A British reporter jokingly suggested that Poulter could have the shortest defense by the clock. His match could end by 11 a.m.

“Could be on an airplane by mid-afternoon, I guess,” Poulter said. “Thanks for that. I hadn’t really thought about that until you just mentioned it, but thanks, well done. I’d rather be having a nice salmon for a starter and filet steak for dinner tomorrow night.”


CONGRESSIONAL: Mike Davis is more interested in risk-and-reward than par when it comes to the U.S. Open.

Davis, who has been in charge of setting up the U.S. Open courses since 2006, is the one who rejected a suggestion that the 18th hole at Torrey Pines be converted to a par 4 to the course would play to a 70. It led to one of the more dramatic finishes when Tiger Woods made birdie to force a playoff, which he won.

Davis also says the sixth hole at Congressional will be a par 5, making the course play to a par 71. It was a par 70 in 1997.

“We’ve built a new tee and we’re making it a risk-reward par 5,” Davis said earlier this month about the sixth hole. “People used to throw darts at us for reducing par, and now we’re increasing par. It’s because we looked at the hole and said, ‘This green has not been built for a par 4.’ And now we can get aggressive with some hole locations.”

Davis also said the graduated rough that has become his signature at the U.S. Open might not be on every hole at Congressional. That requires plenty of room (Bethpage Black, Torrey Pines), and Congressional features tree-lined fairways.

“On some of those holes, we do not have enough width to do what we want,” he said. “You’ll go from the lighter rough to be under some branches. In other cases, we’d have more balls outside the rope line. I think this year will be a different.”


GOLF CHANNEL: NBC Sports and the Golf Channel are now under the same parent company now that Comcast has acquired NBCUniversal. They will show their new association this week at the Match Play Championship with a combined 28 hours of live coverage.

The programming will be branded as “Golf Channel on NBC.”

The coverage will incorporate the Golf Channel look, from tournament graphics to the logo the commentators wear on their apparel.

“There are very few channels whose name delivers exactly what the brand promises,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman of the NBC Sports Group. “Our plan is to grow Golf Channel by exposing it to new viewers through the broad reach of the network and the unprecedented cross-promotional power of NBCUniversal.”


CONSOLATION: The Match Play Championship has changed its format this year. Instead of the semifinals Saturday afternoon and a 36-hole championship match, the semifinals will be Sunday morning, following by an 18-hole final.

Still in place is the consolation match.

Tournament organizers like the idea of a consolation match because of the difference in money, world ranking points, FedEx Cup points and every other year, Ryder Cup points.

Stewart Cink doesn’t mind the consolation match, but he think there’s nothing wrong with it ending in a draw.

“I remember when me and Ross Fisher came to the 18th tied,” Cink said of a consolation match two years ago. “I hit it in the bunker and he’s got 5 feet for par. I holed by bunker shot. Otherwise, we go extra holes, and then it’s up to TV. What to you do?”


DIVOTS: The opening match between Ian Poulter and Stewart Cink could also be a battle of Twitter. Among PGA Tour members on Twitter, Cink has the most followers (1,202,607), followed by Poulter (1,113,772). … Starting this year, all entries for USGA championships will only be available online. The online entry process began in 2002. Last year, nearly than 93 percent of more than 35,000 entries for the USGA’s 13 championships were done online. … The United States has 25 players in the Match Play field. England and Australia are second with six players, followed with South Africa and South Korea with four each. Japan, Sweden and Italy each have three players, while Denmark, Spain and Northern Ireland have two apiece.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Four of the seven PGA Tour winners this year were outside the top 150 in the world when they won.


FINAL WORD: “I still think that he can make those guys eat their words … these young guys that are basically writing him off.” _ NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller on Tiger Woods.

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