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. Matt Kuchar is defending champion.
The top-64 available players on the Official World Golf Ranking will tee it up this week. The competitors will be 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.
With matches contested over just 18 holes, there’s huge potential for upsets and there’s every chance of some big names falling at the first hurdle.
There’s no Tiger Woods or Adam Scott in the field so Sweden’s Henrik Stenson is the top-ranked player starting at Dove Mountain. He takes on Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand in round one in the Bobby Jones bracket. Phil Mickelson is also absent, so the top seeds in each of the other brackets are Justin Rose, Zach Johnson and Rory McIlroy.
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. An astonishing, increased prize fund of $9,000,000 means players knocked out in the first round will walk away with over $50,000.
Last year, Matt Kuchar defeated Hunter Mahan (the winner in 2012) by 2&1 in the final. This year Kuchar has a tough first round draw against Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger while Mahan takes on Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain.
Other interesting first round match-ups include: Jason Day against the talented Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, Luke Donald against Italy’s Matteo Manassero, matchplay specialist Ian Poulter against Rickie Fowler and the on-form Japanese player Hideki Matsuyama against former finalist Martin Kaymer of Germany.
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.
This event was first contested in 1999 when Jeff Maggert saw off Andrew Magee in the final. The fact they were the 24th and 50th seeds says something about the possibility for upsets in this tournament. Tiger Woods is the only man who has come into the event as top seed and gone on to win – he achieved that feat three times (2003, 2004 and 2008.)
Other unlikely former winners include Kevin Sutherland in 2002 – the 62nd seed, and Geoff Ogilvy in 2006 – 52nd seed.
The weather this week looks set fair and the players should enjoy warm weather – no freak snowstorms like the one that caused the suspension of the first round last season.
Venue: The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Marana, Arizona
Date: Feb 19-23
Course stats: par 72, 7,791 yards
Purse: $9,000,000 Winner: $1,530,000
Defending Champion: Matt Kuchar
Wednesday 19 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm
Thursday 20 – Sky Sports 4 from 6pm
Friday 21 – Sky Sports 4 from 6pm
Saturday 22 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm
Sunday 23 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm
Henrik Stenson – The Swede won this event in 2007 (albeit at a different course.) He played solidly if unspectacularly in the Middle East and should come into this event well rested and ready to compete.
George Coetzee – He has a tough opening match against former winner Steve Stricker, but he’s on a great run of form. He’s been fourth, fifth and first in his last three European Tour starts.
Jordan Spieth – He’s making his debut in this event but he’s one of the form players at the moment. Second in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, tied fourth at Pebble Beach despite a disastrous third round and tied 12th last week at Riviera.
Stephen Gallacher – He’s an outsider, but proved his grit by defending the Dubai Desert Classic. He has to get past Ernie Els in round one.
Rory McIlroy – A former runner-up in this event, McIlroy has shown signs of returning to his best form. If he plays at his very top level, there are few who could beat him.
Ian Poulter – The match play expert and a former winner here. He’s always tough to get past in this event and this year will be no different.
Dustin Johnson – Second on his last two PGA Tour outings, Johnson will be one of the favourites this week. He has the ability to overpower opponents.
Bubba Watson – Another power player and fresh off a win at Riviera, Bubba will play freely and with aggression this week. If it clicks for him, he could be unstoppable.
Skills required – Winning matches. It doesn’t matter what you score in this event, you just have to outplay your opponent on the day. Having the tactical nous to do just what it takes will be the key this week.