The best players in the world have assembled at Dove Mountain in Arizona this week for the first World Golf Championship event of 2013 – the Accenture Match Play Championship. Hunter Mahan is defending champion.
The top-64 available players on the Official World Golf Ranking will tee it up this week. The competitors have been placed in four brackets (Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Bobby Jones,) and are seeded according to their World Ranking. So, the top seed plays the 64th seed; the number two seed plays 63rd, and so on.
That means World Number 1 Rory McIlroy is up against his good friend Shane Lowry in the top match of the Bobby Jones bracket. Tiger Woods will face Charles Howell III in the top game of the Gary Player bracket, Louis Oosthuizen takes on Scotland’s Richie Ramsay in the Ben Hogan bracket and Luke Donald is pitted against Marcel Siem of Germany in the Sam Snead bracket.
The overall winner will have to come through six rounds of knockout matchplay to be crowned champion. But even those who fail to progress will be rewarded handsomely. This year’s increased prize fund of $8,750,000 means players knocked out in the first round will walk away with some $50,000.
The course at Dove Mountain is a Jack Nicklaus signature layout, a stunning track carved through the desert. At nearly 8,000 yards, it’s one of the longest courses the pros visit each year but the altitude negates the extra length to a certain extent.
Last year, Hunter Mahan came through the final against Rory McIlroy by 2&1 to take the title. In opposite halves of the draw, it’s possible the pair could meet in the final again this time round.
There are some interesting first-round match-ups. Graeme McDowell will take on fellow Major winner Padraig Harrington in the Jones bracket while Martin Kaymer vs George Coetzee and Steve Stricker vs Henrik Stenson promise to be close contests.
17 countries are represented in the 64-man field with 29 players coming from Europe. There are 21 Americans.
Venue: Ritz-Carlton GC, Dove Mountain, Arizona
Date: Feb 20 – 24
Course stats: par 72, 7,791 yards
Purse: $8,750,000 Winner: $1,440,000
Defending Champion: Hunter Mahan (beat Rory McIlroy 2&1)
Wednesday 20 – Sky Sports 1 from 5pm
Thursday 21 – Sky Sports 2 from 6pm
Friday 22 – Sky Sports 3 from 7pm
Saturday 23 – Sky Sports 3 from 5pm
Sunday 24 – Sky Sports 2 from 2pm
The top seeds in each bracket are Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Louis Oosthuizen and Luke Donald. Who else might make a decent run at the title?
Bobby Jones Bracket:
Charl Schwartzel – One of the form players in world golf at the moment. The South African has four straight top-5 finishes on the European Tour and might have won last week’s Northern Trust Open if not for a disappointing finish.
Dustin Johnson – He’ll have to come through some tough matches, but he has the power and talent to beat the very best if he’s on his game.
Gary Player Bracket:
Peter Hanson – A solid performer who played well in this event last year. The Swede takes on fellow Scandinavian Thomas Bjorn in round one, then will likely have to get past Webb Simpson and Tiger Woods to progress. He won’t be overawed by that task.
Richard Sterne – The South African showed superb form in winning the Joburg Open. He’s a streaky player and will look to keep his run going this week.
Ben Hogan Bracket:
Louis Oosthuizen – Top of the Hogan bracket, Oosthuizen will be confident of his chances of progressing past the bracket stage. He’s played fantastic golf in recent months and there’s no reason to think he won’t carry on his excellent play here.
Justin Rose – The Englishman might face Sergio in round three, that could be the key match. If he gets past the Spaniard, he could go all the way.
Sam Snead Bracket:
Nick Watney – He’s made it to the third round three times and will look to do better this time out. He recently went on a run of six straight top-20 finishes worldwide.
Thorbjorn Olesen – An outside chance but he’s a supremely talented player who will fear nobody in this field. The Dane could just spring a surprise.
Skills required: Dove Mountain is one of the very longest courses in world golf, but it’s not just the ability to hit monster drives that will lead to success here. The last three winners – Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan are not among the biggest hitters. For the Englishmen, it was their skills at scrambling and avoiding mistakes that saw them lift the trophy. Mahan relied on his accuracy and ability to find a high % of greens in regulation.