Woods the firm favourite at NEC Invitational

Phil Mickelson might be the new PGA champion but it is Tiger Woods who will be firm favourite to collect the $1,3-million first prize at this week’s WGC NEC Invitational.

In the six previous NEC’s, Woods has amassed a stunning $4-million in prize money. He has won three times and never finished worse than fourth.

The 29-year-old completed a stunning season in the majors last weekend when he came tied fourth to Mickelson. Two wins, the Masters and British Open, a second at the US Open and his PGA fourth simply underlines that his new swing is working.

Most of the top finishers in the PGA are arriving here late because of the Monday finish but Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal, who finished seven-over at Baltursol, arrived on Monday to get in some extra practice.

The Firestone Country Club holds special memories for Olazabal.

In 1990 he shot a blistering course record 61 on Thursday and followed it with three 67s to win his first US Tour win.

“I’ve had great rounds, but never like that one.
At the start it was awesome,” said the Spaniard.

And it could have been even better. The 39-year-old remembers missing birdie chances on 15 and 16.

The Spaniard, after two years in the wilderness, has refound the swing and has already regained his US Tour card for next season.

At the Open he finished third, behind Woods and Colin Montgomerie and lost a playoff in the BellSouth Classic to Mickelson.

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington is hoping to cash in on his first US Tour win earlier this year at the Honda Classic and following that up with victory in the Barclays Classic.

The 33-year-old had a terrible PGA, failing to make the cut but the Dubliner is still coming to terms with the death of his father in July.

“That’s only to be expected. Time will heal everything,” he said.

Harrington is hoping that he can pull off a win here this week as a special “victory for dad”.

“I need to play golf,” he explained.

“This is a good tournament for me in the fact that if I play well, great, but at least I’ll get to play four rounds here.

“Akron’s a great course. Whether you win this or not, it’s a good test.”

Harrington can draw comfort from the fact that an Irishman has already won the NEC—Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke.

Clarke took the million dollar first prize in 2003, his second in the WGC series. He famously beat Woods in the final of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2000.

Like Harrington, Clarke is also trying to cope with personal problems. His wife Heather is recovering from cancer.

But Woods will be battling to retain his amazing record in the WGC series.

He has nine wins in the 19 WGC held so far.

Number ten, to go with his 10 major titles would be just the tonic to get over defeat to Mickelson last week. - Sapa-AFP