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Woods to Defend Title at World Match Play Championship - 2004-02-25

Tiger Woods will try to defend his title this week at the World Match Play golf Championship at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California.

The world number-one ranked Woods is under mounting pressure to perform. Last year at this time, Woods, 28, had three victories in his first four starts of the year, following a month-long layoff after knee surgery.

This season, however, Tiger has not won in his first three tournaments and his long-established grip on the game is widely perceived to have relaxed. Rivals like world number-two Vijay Singh of Fiji and third-ranked South African Ernie Els appear to have closed the gap.

The top-seeded Woods will meet fellow American John Rollins in Wednesday's first round, but he says the field is so talented that upsets are likely.

"If I walk away from the game right now, I think I have had a pretty good career. It's hard to say I have not had a good career," he said. "People fail to realize, like in 2002, how close I was to having a year like I did in 2000. I was one stroke out of a playoff to get into a third major, just like I did in 2000."

The Match Play Championship, the first of the year's four World Golf Championship events, is limited to the top 64 players in the sport.

Three players have already withdrawn from this week's event, including Ernie Els and sixth-ranked Jim Furyk and fellow American Kirk Triplett. Unless there are further withdrawals, Vijay Singh will take on Shingo Katayama of Japan in the opening round while reigning U.S. Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada, winner of the Nissan Open on Sunday, comes up against 2002 U.S. PGA champion Rich Beem of the United States.