WGC-Accenture Match Play Preview

Courtesy of Cory Biggs, Executive Director, The First Tee of Central Arkansas

The 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship got off to a frigid start Wednesday with play being suspended due to a rare desert snowstorm at the Ritz-Calrton Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona. When play resumes, all bets will be off, with 23 of 32 first-round matches resuming mid-round. Five times in the 14-year history of this event, the lower seeds have won more first-round matchups than the higher seeds, though that hasn’t happened since 2010. Look for plenty of upsets this week.

World Number One Rory McIlroy has seen little success so far this year and seems to still be working out the kinks with his new Nike equipment. He’ll have to contend with a really tough Bobby Jones Bracket. Though he has a favorable opening matchup (against Shane Lowry, who entered the field when Phil Mickelson opted not to participate), if Rory can’t figure out how to keep his driver in play he might be shown the door early. Six other major champions lurk in this bracket, with the likes of Charl Schwartzel and Padraig Harrington playing well, not to mention McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell. Dustin Johnson won this year’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the PGA Tour’s first stop of the year, in Hawaii, and rookie Russell Henley—the only person in the field playing in his first World Golf Championship event—won the following week’s Sony Open.

The Gary Player Bracket may well be the strongest with Tiger Woods taking the top seed. But all you need to do to know the strength of this bunch is glance at Hunter Mahan, the event’s defending champion and a two-time U.S. Ryder Cupper, who is just the six seed here. Lee Westwood is always capable of posting low scores despite a chronic inability to perform when the stakes are the highest. Major champions Martin Kaymer and Webb Simpson are also a threat to advance far. Tiger hasn’t advanced past the second round of this event since he last won it in 2008, but if he gets past Charles Howell, who has started the year well, look for him to take this bracket.

The Ben Hogan Bracket is led by Louis Oosthuizen, who benefited from Brandt Snedeker (number four in the World Golf Rankings) withdrawing due to a rib injury. Oosthuizen has struggled at Dove Mountain in three appearances, but has already won this year in Europe. Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, two of the most successful competitors in Ryder Cup history, and Americans Matt Kuchar and Keegan Bradley, fresh off his own impressive Ryder Cup run and looking to capture his second WGC title, will challenge the smiling South African. Oosthuizen’s compatriot, the great Ernie Els, will also be a tough out.

In the Sam Snead Bracket, which might appear at first to be the weakest of the four brackets but is populated by five past champions of this event, top seed Luke Donald will have an opportunity to prove his mettle and add to his 2011 title. Ian Poulter won this event in 2010, and continued his match play brilliance in last year’s Ryder Cup. And both Steve Stricker and David Toms know how to win in this format, too. If you’re looking for a sleeper in the field, look no further than Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, who won here in 2007. Victory here may very well come down to a third round matchup of Australian Adam Scott and Poulter, though it seems nearly impossible to make predictions with so many good matchups between these players.

Your guess as to who will come out on top of this event may be as good as ours, but it should make for great practice before filling out all those March Madness brackets.

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The First Tee’s Staff Picks:

Jacob Coleman, Executive Assistant – “If forced to pick, I would take Woods and Poulter squaring off in one semifinal, and Rose and McDowell in the other, with Woods and Rose prevailing. Look for Tiger to win his fourth Match Play Championship on Sunday.”

Cory Biggs, Executive Director – “It’s hard to pick against Tiger or Poulter, though I think in a matchup of the two, Tiger’s absence of late from competitive golf (part of which he spent hitting the links with President Obama) will result in Poulter gaining the edge. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who emerges from that half of the bracket. I think it’s Dustin Johnson’s time to shine.”

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