MARANA, Ariz. – Phil Mickelson vs. Rickie Fowler is good fun all by itself.
Two charismatic West Coast players from different generations will square off Thursday in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
That’s what a tough and gritty first round of matches gave us Wednesday at The Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain.
It also brought us more angst about where Tiger Woods’ game is headed with Woods being eliminated by Thomas Bjorn.
It delivered signs that a changing of the guard may be imminent with so much young talent making statements.
And it revealed that world No. 1 Lee Westwood is feeling like he deserves a little more respect.
Here’s a rundown of highlights and lowlights from Day 1 in the desert:Tiger bounced in another setback
When Woods pushed his tee shot right and into the desert scrub brush with a 3-wood to lose at the 19th hole, he brought more scrutiny over where his game’s headed as he builds a new swing.
Even Tiger’s former swing coach weighed in with skepticism.
“For all the talk of Tiger’s poor driving the last six years,” Hank Haney wrote on his Twitter account, “I have never seen him drive it out of play with a match or tournament on the line.”
After defeating Woods, Bjorn appeared to give the 14-time major championship winner a spirited pep talk as they shook hands.
“That’s between me and Tiger,” Bjorn said. “What I will say is that the game of golf needs him back at his best. I want to see him back at his best because I think it’s much more fun to go up against him when he’s absolutely at his peak.”
Bjorn acknowledged it wasn’t a pretty victory.
“You just didn’t know what was going to happen, didn’t know who was going to hit a bad shot next,” Bjorn said. “It was one of those days where we’re not proud of the way we played, but I’m proud of the way I hung in there.”
Woods, a three-time winner of the Accenture, leaves after the first round for just the second time in his 10 starts.
Tiger’s slide in world rankings
With his first-round elimination, Woods will bump down at least one spot in the world rankings to No. 4 next week and could slide as far as No. 8.
No. 4 Graeme McDowell, a 3-and-2 winner against Heath Slocum, is a lock to move ahead of Woods in the next rankings.
No. 5 Mickelson, No. 6 Paul Casey, No. 7 Rory McIlroy and No. 9 Luke Donald all have chances to move ahead of Woods.
Mickelson vs. Fowler
There’s more than a ticket to the third round in the offering if Mickelson defeats Fowler Thursday. There’s passage to a place Mickelson hasn’t been in almost 14 years.
If Mickelson defeats Fowler, he’s guaranteed to move ahead of Tiger Woods in the world rankings.
Mickelson, 40, hasn’t ranked ahead of Woods since April 6, 1997, the week before Woods won his first Masters in that 12-shot romp.
Mickelson’s got to get through Fowler to get past Woods, and Fowler’s proving a formidable match-play opponent in his fledgling professional career.
No. 1 wanting a little more love
Lee Westwood, holding the top spot in the world rankings for a 17th consecutive week, played well in his 3-and-2 victory against former Accenture champ Henrik Stenson.
Westwood, though, wondered afterward via Twitter if anyone noticed.
Apparently, he was informed he didn’t get much TV time.
“For anybody wondering, I am playing in the Match Play,” Westwood wrote. “And I did win 3 and 2. Thanks Golf Channel.”
Little respect for elders
Matteo Manassero, the youngest player ever to qualify for the Accenture at 17, defeated 44-year-old Steve Stricker.
It was Stricker’s birthday Wednesday.
“Heck of a scalp you’ve taken there,” a European Tour media rep told Manassero opening the post-match news conference.
“I am surprised because I beat the eighth-ranked player in the world,” Manassero said. “It’s a big achievement for me.”
Manassero is now the youngest player to win a match.
Among the youth advancing with Manassero: Jason Day (23), Fowler (22) and McIlroy (21).
In a rapid fire prediction column for the 32 first-round matches, this writer picked Rory McIlroy to lose.
Actually, the pick was that a player who’s won twice in his last six PGA Tour starts (Jonathan Byrd) would win.
McIlroy was impressive, defeating Byrd, 4 and 2, prompting this writer to pledge to go home tonight and write 100 times, “I will not pick against Rory McIlroy again.” It’s penance for poor prognostication. McIlroy can move to No. 3 in the world with a victory, and he’s looking like one of the top three players in the world already.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell