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Woods' way: Match play master

By Mark Soltau
SportsLine Senior Writer

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Deposit another million in Tiger Woods' bank account.

The odds of Darren Clarke beating him Sunday in the World Golf Championships-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship are about as good as Tim Herron making just one pass through the buffet line. It ain't gonna happen.

With all due respect to Clark, a fine player and deserving finalist, Woods is simply too good in this format. With two wins Saturday, he's 13-3 in match play as a professional and 6-1 lifetime in 36-hole showdowns, the lone blemish a 1-down defeat to pal Mark O'Meara in the 1998 World Match Play Championship in England.

Saturday afternoon at sun-drenched La Costa Country Club, Woods did a number on Ryder Cup teammate Davis Love III in the semifinals. Woods eagled two par 5s, didn't make a bogey and was 8-under-par for 14 holes. Talk about domination. Woods blitzed the front nine in 6-under 30, the best score all week.

"I didn't expect him to do all that," said the fourth-seeded Love, who made only one bogey all week and was a combined 20-under. "He was phenomenal."

Asked to assess his confidence level, Woods replied, "Pretty good right now."

No kidding. After winning his sixth consecutive tournament earlier this month at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Woods tied for second at the Buick Invitational and 18th last week at the Nissan Open.

Some speculated he might wear down playing four weeks in a row, but he has shown no sign. If anything, he appears to be getting stronger.

You want scary? Woods didn't rate the Love rout in the "as good as it gets" category.

"No," he said. "How many holes did I play, 14? I could have been 14-under or better."

Woods wasn't grinning, either.

Which brings us to Sunday's final. Clarke lives in Northern Ireland and plays the European Tour, but Woods considers him a good friend and they share the same swing coach, Butch Harmon. They recently practiced together in Las Vegas and competed against each other last September in the Ryder Cup.

Although many were hoping the top-seeded Woods and second-seeded David Duval would collide for the title, the 19th-seeded Clarke had other ideas and prevailed with a suffocating 4 and 2 victory. Not that Woods cared who he opposed.

"Either way, it's going to be a tough match," he said.

Not necessarily. Woods is a combined 23 under for 79 holes and has started to get hot with his putter. That doesn't bode well for Clarke, especially in a long match

"I definitely prefer 36," said Woods. "Just because if you get off to a bad start, you can always make it up."

The big question is loyalty. Sure, Woods is worth more, an estimated $150 million. But who will Harmon pull for and spend the most time with on the range beforehand?

"It will be interesting to see," Woods smiled.

To be sure, Harmon's allegiance is with Woods. He's only been helping Clarke for about a year, but is actually in a no-lose situation.

"It's a great feeling to have both guys in there," said Harmon, who runs a golf school at Rio Secco Golf Club in Las Vegas. "I'm just as happy for Darren as I am for Tiger."

After Woods struggled to a 1-up win over British Open champ Paul Lawrie in the morning quarterfinals, he went straight to the range for a quick-fix from Harmon, who noticed his right arm was hanging back on impact. Voila. Woods was picture-perfect after lunch.

"This afternoon was textbook golf," Harmon said. "He played as well as he can play. When he plays his best golf, he's unbeatable."

That's pretty much the dilemma facing Clarke. Anything can happen in match play, but he knows if Woods gets untracked, he'll be hard-pressed to keep up. Clarke might be a pal, but Woods won't let friendship come between victory. He lives for moments like this.

Clarke and partner Lee Westood did beat Woods and Duval in foursomes play during the first day of the Ryder Cup last year, but that's hardly the same as one-on-one. Which is probably why Woods was asked what he would do with his next million.

"Buy a piece of gum," he joked. "I can definitely go for that extra pack."

Or the company.

Editor's Note: Senior Writer Mark Soltau appears every Monday on GolfWeb and He also will be filing daily from this week's World Golf Championships-Andersen Consulting Match Play Championship.