I'm going to be very happy to see the PGA Tour finish its West Coast Swing this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play because it's been an 0-for thus far for me picking winners on Tour this year. Florida, however, has been very good for the past few years doing these stories.
Last week at the Northern Trust Open, Bubba Watson got his first victory since the 2012 Masters. Watson closed with a tidy 64-64 weekend and played the final 39 holes without a bogey to win by two shots over Dustin Johnson, who was runner-up for the second week in a row. Watson was the first winner of that tournament to have a bogey-free weekend since 1983. To no surprise, Watson led the field in driving distance, but finally his accuracy was strong too. He was four shots behind leader William McGirt when Watson teed off on Sunday.
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My best value to win was former Northern Trust Open champion Bill Haas (25/1), but he finished T23 after a final-round 73. On the Top-10 props, I hit on Johnson at +135. Head-to-head, I had Johnson at -130 over Webb Simpson. That's about it. Disappointing.
So this week it's probably my favorite golf betting tournament of the year, the NCAA Tournament-style WGC-Accenture Match Play at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Arizona with a field of 64 divided into four brackets. Henrik Stenson is the top seed in the Bobby Jones bracket and Rory McIlroy in the Ben Hogan. Those two brackets meet in the Final Four. On the other side, Justin Rose is the No. 1 in the Gary Player while Zach Johnson is tops in the Sam Snead. Theoretically, this field is supposed to be made up of the Top 64 ranked players in the world, but there are always guys choosing to not play. Unfortunately this year that list includes world No. 1 Tiger Woods, No. 2 Adam Scott and No. 4 Phil Mickelson.
Those three sitting out this week opened spots for American Scott Piercy (to open against Rose), South Africa's Richard Sterne (opens vs. Zach Johnson) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (opens vs. Stenson), winner of the Asian Tour's Order of Merit. Also playing this week is Steve Stricker, which is a great thing. He was very iffy as Stricker's mind was not exactly focused on golf as his brother Scott was awaiting a liver transplant in Wisconsin. He had successful surgery on Friday, so Steve makes his first start of the season.
Kuchar is the defending champion, beating Hunter Mahan 2&1 in the final for his first-ever WGC title. Tiger is the only player to win this in consecutive years, coming in 2003-04. Woods has often struggled in this event, too, so I'm not shocked he's not playing. Upsets are commonplace here. There have been 15 "upsets" where the worst-seeded player won matches in the first round each of the past two years. The No. 64 seed has won five times in 21 matches overall. The No. 1 seed has won this event three times, but so has the No. 9. Seeds No. 2-No. 7 have never won it. The lowest to win is the No. 62.
The first-round matches are Wednesday, with the Round of 32 on Thursday, the Sweet 16 on Friday and the quarterfinals on Saturday. The semifinals and final both take place on Sunday. The best first-round matches in my eyes are Harris English vs. Lee Westwood (Hogan), Sergio Garcia vs. Marc Leishman (Hogan), Ian Poulter vs. Rickie Fowler (Hogan -- clearly the toughest bracket), Luke Donald vs. Matteo Manassero (Player) and Graeme McDowell vs. Gary Woodland (Snead).
PGA Tour Golf Odds: WGC-Match Play Favorites
McIlroy is the 12/1 overall favorite at Bovada and 7/2 to take the Hogan bracket. McIlroy has a tough draw, opening with Boo Weekley and then facing either Lee Westwood or English. Match play studs Garcia or Poulter could be in the bracket final against Rory. McIlroy's best result here is a runner-up in 2012.
Dustin Johnson and Jason Day are each 18/1, with Johnson the 4/1 favorite in the Snead and Day the 4/1 favorite in the Jones. Johnson has been terrific so far in 2014 but has lost in the first round in four of the past five years here. If form holds he would face Watson in the Sweet 16 and then Zach Johnson for a trip to the semis. Day has Stricker and Graham DeLaet in his half of the Jones bracket. The Aussie was third here last year.
The favorites are rounded out by Stenson and Jordan Spieth at 20/1. Stenson is 5/1 behind Day to win the Jones and Spieth is the 9/2 favorite in the Player. It's his first time in this event. Stenson won this in 2007 at a different course.
PGA Tour Picks: WGC-Match Play Predictions
An American has won this event the past two years and nine times overall, but obviously you don't have Woods or Mickelson now. This I like a European as the winning nationality at +125. An American is the even money favorite. I also like Hunter Mahan at 11/1 as the top American player overall. He won in 2012 and dueled Kuchar in the final last year. For the top rest of the world player I lean DeLaet at 8/1. He had a runner-up in Phoenix earlier this year.
The key to picking a winner since this tournament moved to Dove Mountain is that all 10 finalists had either played in the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup. Thus, I'm going with Sergio at 22/1 to win, 11/2 to take the Hogan and 8/1 to be the top European. Sergio has won twice in his past three starts overseas and is 13-12 in his career in this event, with a best finish of losing the 2010 consolation match. He lost to Kuchar in Round 2 last year.
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