Matching Up For A World Championship

Defending Champion Geoff Ogilvy (Photo:  Chris Carlson, AP)
Defending Champion Geoff Ogilvy (Photo: Chris Carlson, AP)

It has been nearly a decade since Steve Stricker came out of the back of the pack to win the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play. Nobody gave him much thought as the 55th seed but certainly there will be a lot more attention focused on him this year as the man on top of the brackets

Of course, this is match play, and just about anything can, and will, happen. That is not to say that we can expect Ross McGowan to run through the field from the 64th position but it is plausible to believe that he or anyone else in this elite field could capture the championship and the $1.4 million first prize.

That means that even the best players can falter in this tournament. You need not look any further than the number 2 and 3 seeds. In nine starts Lee Westwood has never advanced beyond the second round and steady-as-you-go player Jim Furyk, a seemingly certain contender, has struggled mightily to get beyond the third round of matches.

The potential match ups could make for some riveting television and the promise of seeing the bulk the of world golf talent in one location for the first time this year has a lot of people paying attention.

You can print out your Tournament Brackets here for starters. If you can possibly pick out each and every winner you will have earned my utmost admiration.

One comforting thing for the players in the field this week in Arizona should be the fact that they will be able to dry out from the West Coast swing. Rain was a constant companion throughout the California events but the forecast centered on the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain looks to be perfect with plenty of sunshine and reasonable temperatures.

With that in place there should be nothing that affects the outcome except for how the players tackle the layout, and more importantly, their competitors.

Bobby Jones Bracket

In the Bobby Jones bracket a few matches jump out. The #1 seed, Stricker, could have his hands full with #64 Ross McGowan. The Englishman can make scores of birdies as proven by his record of shooting 60 and 61 in various European Tour events. Stricker will have to win some holes play playing steady to take advantage of any faltering by McGowan.

Match #30 will see young guns Ryo Ishikawa and Michael Sim face off for what could potentially be a pairing we see in major championships for years to come.

Ben Hogan Bracket

A couple matches to watch will include the tangle between #1 bracket seed Martin Kaymer and #16 Chad Campbell. Although he has not played this event since 2007 Campbell has made it to the top 16 in all four appearances. Kaymer has the confidence of a recent win in Abu Dhabi but it can always be tough to tangle with those gritty Texans.

Keep a close eye on Luke Donald. Now healthy after battling the wrist issue that put him out of this tournament last year, he has been playing well on the west coast and that should carry over in Arizona. His relatively mistake-free game translates well to match play. He has plenty of experience in this format as both an amateur and Ryder Cup player.

Gary Player

At the top of the Gary Player bracket eyes will be peeled to a clash of Englishmen. Lee Westwood is strong but emerging star Chris Wood could give him a test.

Also compelling is the Ernie Els and Ryan Moore match. Both have shown a lot of revival in their games of late so this could be a tight one.

Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, already a winner this year on the PGA Tour, should get past Alex Noren in round one but he will face the winner of match #40. That will be a dust-up between Camilo Villegas and Dustin Johnson, a match sure to have a big following from both the crowd at hand and the television cameras.

Sam Snead

Jim Furyk is the #1 seed here but as mentioned he has struggled to get to the final stages of this tournament in the past.

Marquee match-ups include Mahan versus Schwartzel which could be anyone’s call while the most polar game will be between rock-steady former Masters Champion Mike Weir and the firepower-blessed Alvaro Quiros. Quiros was “one and done” in his only tournament appearance last year.

There could also be a great fight of the flatsticks as Kenny Perry; the oldest player is the field at 50, finds himself up against another great putter in Brian Gay.

The Course

Although the opponent is much more critical in match play the Ritz-Carlton Course is a bruiser that can play to over 7,800 yards if the tour wants it to. At the expected playing length of just under 7,500 yards the Jack Nicklaus crafted layout will still present a great test.

Every green, with the exception of the one of the 6th hole, has been renovated since last year to provide for better hole location options, more receptive contours, and potentially higher green speeds than what could be used in the past. They are expected to be 10.5 to 11 on the Stimpmeter this week.

No hole will be more critical than the 343-yard 15th. The par four hole plays as short as 300 yards depending on the tees, and matches often arrive at the hole during a pivotal moment in competition. With a drivable par 4 at such a crucial position of the course, players are faced with the decision of going for the green or laying up, bringing everything from eagle to double bogey into play.

Notes:

– Flagstick Golf Magazine Rules columnist Dean Ryan is on hand this week in Arizona as a Tournament Rules Official.

– 43 of the field of 64 players come from outside the United States. They represent 18 countries.

-The largest contingent from outside the U.S. comes from England who has 9 players in the field.

– There are 23 players under the age of 30, the most in tournament history.

North American. TV Coverage (EST)
2/17, 2:00-6:00 p.m. GOLF
2/18,2:00-6:00 p.m. GOLF
2/19, 2:00-6:00 p.m. GOLF
2/20, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. GOLF
2:00-6:00 p.m. CBS
2/21, 10:00 a.m.-1:30 p.m. GOLF
2:00-6:00 p.m. CBS


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