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Rupert Wyman 24th Feb 2009 - 15:39

Tiger to prey on the field

Tiger Woods returns to competitive play this week at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. The world number one has been absent since winning the US Open on one leg in June.

Tiger is fond of this event having won it three times in the past including last year when he routed compatriot Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the final.

Unsurprisingly Woods' return means that for the first time in quite a while there is a clear favourite in the betting. Tiger is 5/1 to win in Arizona with Phil Mickelson, one of four players next in the betting, at 16/1. Lefty's co-second favourites are Spain's Sergio Garcia, American Anthony Kim and Swede Henrik Stenson.

Of course the question is not of Tiger's ability but that of his knee. The surgery has been reported as a success but whether it is really ready for the strain of Match Play is another matter.

Tiger could not have wished for an easier return as his first match is against Aussie Brendan Jones. Jones lost to fellow countryman Adam Scott in the first round last year and it would be a big shock if Jones defeated the world's greatest golfer. Tiger is a short 1/4 to dispatch of Jones, with the shock win priced at 14/5.

But with Jones admitting that he has not even been practising ahead of the championship, as his Japanese schedule does not begin until April, it does not bode well for the underdog.

Having said that Tiger has lost to Australians three times in this event including a first-round loss in 2002. But it would take a very brave man to back the 14/5. An even braver man might be interested to know that Jones is 250/1 to win the whole thing.

Tiger's main rival for Match Play glory could well be his arch-enemy Mickelson as he is in form following his win at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday which moved him up to third in the world (from fifth).

Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington is rightly not fancied in the betting at 33/1. The Irishman is the third-seed but in 2009 he has made the cut just once in three starts so he has yet to find his form. He could even find it hard to get past American Pat Perez in the first round. Perez is the outsider of the two at 6/5 with Harrington at 4/6.

Some value could be found in the outright market with Kenny Perry at 50/1. The American is 8/15 favourite to defeat Aussie Matthew Goggin (6/4) in the first round.

Perry could potentially face Englishman Paul Casey in the second round and Swede Robert Karlsson in the third round, but Perry has the game to defeat both as proved by his current status as number one in the US Money List.

The championship promises to be a fascinating encounter and not just because of the return of Tiger. This is the sole PGA Tour match-play event so it creates much more interest than some of the other Tour events. You can follow all the action live on Sky Sports 3 with play beginning on Wednesday afternoon.

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