It’s a shame that Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson will be missing from this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at the par-72 Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain (at 7,791 yards, it’s the longest course on PGA Tour) outside of Tucson, Ariz. If the two Americans, ranked No. 4 and No. 9, respectively, were in the field, this might be one of the most anticipated Match Play events ever with Snedeker’s early dominance on Tour and Mickelson’s wire-to-wire win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Perhaps we would be able to settle who the best U.S. golfer is right now along with Tiger Woods.
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But as it is, it’s still easily the best field of the year thus far with the 64 of the top 66 in the world set to tee it up in the only Match Play event on the Tour. It’s the first time Tiger will play since his romp victory at Torrey Pines in late January and the first time world No. 1 Rory McIlroy is playing since missing the cut in his first European event of 2013. This also is the start of a terrific three-week stretch of golf, with most top players to play next week at the Honda Classic to start the Florida Swing and then the following week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. Then things get rather quiet, other than Bay Hill, before the Masters.
It’s a simple Match Play format with four brackets much like the NCAA Tournament; the first round is Wednesday and the semifinals and finals are both on Sunday. The top seeds this week are McIlroy (Bobby Jones bracket), Tiger (Gary Player bracket), Luke Donald (Sam Snead bracket) and Louis Oosthuizen (Ben Hogan bracket). It’s the fifth straight year Dove Mountain has hosted, and there have been four different winners in the past four years: defending champion Hunter Mahan, Donald, Ian Poulter and Geoff Ogilvy. Tiger and Ogilvy are the only multiple winners, with Woods doing it three times (last in 2008) but never on this course.
Don’t look for Woods and McIlroy, who lost in the final to Mahan last year, to meet in Sunday’s final. The No. 1 overall seed has never met the No. 2 seed in the final. The best “low-seed” matchup was when top-seeded Woods beat overall No. 3 Davis Love III in the 2004 final. Several high seeds have won the event – for example, Mahan was No. 21 overall in 2012. The largest margin of victory in any match was when Tiger beat Stephen Ames 9 & 8 in the 2006 first round. Woods has only lost twice in the first round and both were big upsets: in 2002 to Peter O'Malley (who?) and Thomas Bjorn in 2011.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: WGC-Match Play Favorites
Tiger is the 9/1 favorite overall, the 3/1 favorite in the Player bracket and 7/2 favorite as the top American finisher. You can also bet Woods’ stage of elimination, with Round 1 at 37/20 and Round 2 at 3/1. Tiger has a tough opener against Charles Howell III, who won’t be intimidated. If form holds, Woods would face No. 8 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in Round 2 then Webb Simpson and Lee Westwood to reach the semifinals. Fernandez-Castano nearly upset Tiger in the first round a year ago.
McIlroy is 12/1 to win the event, 4/1 to win the Jones bracket and 9/2 to be the top European finisher. He is a solid 10-4 overall in the Match Play and has yet to lose in the first round. McIlroy is the seventh different No. 1 overall seed in the 15-year history of this event, with Tiger taking up most of those spots. McIlroy should have no trouble with Shane Lowry, the last man to get into the field, on Wednesday. But McIlroy’s bracket is loaded with the likes of Rickie Fowler (Round 2 perhaps), Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Bubba Johnson, Jim Furyk and Charl Schwartzel.
Schwartzel and Donald are the 16/1 third-favorites. Donald is the 9/2 favorite to win the Snead bracket and 6/1 second-favorite behind McIlroy as top European. Donald is 16-7 all-time in the Match Play and never trailed a match in his 2011 run to the championship. Last year, however, he became the fourth defending champion to go out in the first round. Schwartzel’s best result in four Match Plays is the third round in 2010.
Poulter, Mr. Ryder Cup, rounds out the favorites at 20/1, even though he’s only a No. 3 seed. He’s the 6/1 second-favorite to win the Snead bracket behind Donald and 9/1 third-favorite to be the top European. Poulter is generally a great match play competitor but is 0-2 in this event since winning in 2010 and hasn’t played an official event in six weeks.
PGA Tour Picks: WGC-Match Play Predictions
I love Europe at +120 to be the winning nationality – I might have leaned USA (+125) if Snedeker and Lefty were here. Rest of the world is +400. I don’t like McIlroy to win his bracket as he will be rusty and still might be adjusting to his new Nike equipment. I lean Schwartzel to win the Jones (11/2), which is easily the deepest bracket. I do like Tiger to win his bracket, which doesn’t appear overly strong. I would also take Donald to go chalk and win the Snead bracket. In the Hogan, take Sergio Garcia at 15/2 to win.
That would set up a Donald-Tiger and Schwartzel-Garcia semifinals. I like Schwartzel and Donald there, Donald to take the title and Woods to beat Sergio in the consolation match. Thus, take Donald as top European and Woods as top American as well as Tiger at 10/1 to reach the semifinals as his elimination stage. The Snead bracket housing the winner is at +300 – if Donald doesn’t win, Poulter might from that group.
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