With Woods and Mickelson absent, Stricker must rate the man to beat, especially as he won this event in 2001 when his game was in total crisis. He’s been in imperious form for months, and will take all the beating, but this has never been an event in which to back favourites. Furthermore, nobody has ever won this in their forties.
If past results suggest Stricker is too old to win the event, they also suggest Rory is too young. There are of course lies, damned lies and statistics, and only a fool would write off either player. Last year’s debut was extremely impressive, reaching the quarter-finals before running into an unstoppable Geoff Ogilvy.
Ogilvy’s case is obvious, having won two of the last four WGC Matchplay titles. His tournament record reads 17 wins from 19 matches and having already defended one title this year, the Aussie will have plenty of supporters. His draw is far from straightforward though, and a running, match by match accumulator could well pay better than his 16/1 odds.
It’s impossible to make a golfing argument against Kaymer, who has been in superb form for the past eight months. Nevertheless, once again I’m not too interested in taking just 20/1 in such a wide-open event. The German would be the youngest champion to date of this event at just 25.
Westwood’s chance is rock-solid on the basis of form, but his tournament record is terrible. Incredibly, Westwood has never made the third round from nine previous attempts.
Last year’s runner-up has also won a World Match play title at Wentworth, so clearly enjoys this format. He has a nice draw this time if recapturing that fine level of form, but all of that is factored into odds of 22/1 and he hasn’t yet shown his very best since returning from injury.
Stenson looked virtually invincible at ‘The Gallery’; the other course at Dove Mountain that was previously used for this event. He won there in 2007 and only lost to Woods in extra holes at the semi-final stage in 2008. However, he lost in the first round at Ritz-Carlton last year, and hasn’t shown his best form for some while, though there was some improvement last time out.
Kim has looked ideally suited to this format. He certainly has the right sort of inspirational shot-making skills, and the competitive spirit. He’s somebody I could consider as the tournament progresses, but I’d rather wait to see what happens against Matt Kuchar in the first round.
As mentioned above, Kuchar has a tough first-round match against Kim. He had looked in outstanding form prior to withdrawing halfway through last week’s event at Pebble Beach. No reason was given beyond ‘illness’, and while we must assume he wouldn’t be playing this week if it were serious, it does dampen enthusiasm.
Fisher clearly has the tools for this format, as victory in last year’s Volvo World Match Play and a debut run to the semis here shows. A very strong candidate, but the draw could have been kinder as he looks set to face a stream of in-form opponents early on.
Last week’s top-20 was a significant improvement on his seasonal debut, but Harrington is hard to enthuse about in this event. In ten tries, he’s never gone beyond the quarter-finals and only reached that stage twice.
One to oppose at all costs, as a final-round 77 at Pebble Beach illustrates. Even in happier times, Sergio has never made the quarter-finals of this event.
Clark eliminated Tiger here last year, and is strongly fancied to get past the struggling Vijay Singh in the first round. Long-term injury worries, however, suggest this marathon event is far from ideal.
This six-time champion of the Wentworth-based World Match Play has a poor record in the US version, only winning two of his first nine matches. The move to Ritz-Carlton, with its greater emphasis on short-game brilliance, did spark considerable improvement in a run to the quarter-finals last year though.
Given that Furyk has proved a matchplay master in team golf, his failure to reach the quarter-finals in nine attempts at this event is something of a surprise. Jim is another bidding to become the oldest ever winner.