MARANA, Ariz. — The absence of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson from this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship may not be good for the tournament, but it's great for England's Chris Wood.
You remember Chris Wood, right? He's the 6-foot-6 redhead who nearly won the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008 as an amateur, and then finished tied for third at last year's British Open at Turnberry after making a costly bogie on the 18th hole.
With golf's No. 1 and No. 3 players not in the field this weekas well as a few other players who were not able to competeWood, No. 69 in the world, gained entrance into his first World Golf Championship event.
"This is only my second time playing in America," he said this morning. "I played in last year's PGA Championship, so this is still very new to me."
As are the spoils that come with being an up-and-coming professional golfer.
"As I was explaining to my dad this morning, my friends back home wouldn't believe the amount of stuff that gets thrown at me," he said.
As an amateur player Wood said that he was excited to get a dozen free golf balls at an event. Now, regardless of where he is, each week when he opens his locker there are three or four dozen new Titleist Pro V1x balls waiting for him. Along with the other players, he gets the use of a Mercedes, Lexus or other luxury courtesy car and stays in beautiful hotels. Wood also signed a new endorsement deal with Mizuno and started playing the company's irons and wedges.
Wood admits that at times it can be overwhelming. Traveling with his father as he is this week helps to keep things in perspective.
But what is not new to Wood is winning in match play. He was a one-man wrecking crew in Great Britain & Ireland's win over Continental Europe during the 2009 Vivendi Trophy, winning 4 1/2 out of a possible five points.
"I've got to take each match as it comes," he said. "I know I've got one of the toughest games that I could have, playing in the first round against Lee [Westwood]."
Five years ago Wood was outside the ropes at several European Tour events, watching Westwood compete. "I was intimidated by him, just watching him hit balls. Now I'm taking him on in the first round of the World Match Play. It's kind of cool."
But based on his past performances and massive game, this won't be the last cool thing to happen to Chris Wood. Photo by Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty Images