The 25th event of the wraparound season is upon us, as the PGA Tour heads to San Francisco for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. A field of 64 will tackle TPC Harding Park, where the 16 group winners will advance to single-elimination match play.
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1. Jordan Spieth: The hottest player on the planet, and a deserved favorite regardless of format or venue. Spieth barely broke stride in his first start back after his Masters victory, and while a potential match with fellow Ryder Cupper Patrick Reed looms in the second round, no one wants to face Spieth right now.
2. Henrik Stenson: The Swede received a somewhat favorable draw and appears likely to advance out of his group. He leads the Tour in both strokes gained tee-to-green and strokes gained putting, a combination that should prove somewhat useful this week. Stenson won this event in 2007 in Arizona.
3. Dustin Johnson: The road to the quarterfinals appears somewhat clear for Johnson, where he could meet Rory McIlroy. That matchup aside, DJ has been one of the best players on Tour since returning from his leave of absence and his length off the tee should provide a significant edge in match play.
4. Justin Rose: The Englishman followed his Masters runner-up with a win in New Orleans. Rose remains one of the Tour leaders in birdie average, and the revised format should accentuate his advantage in group stage. He'll face a tough test in Round 2 regardless of opponent, but his current form is too strong to ignore.
5. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama should face little resistance in the group stage, after which he'll face a mammoth test. The Japanese sensation could catch a break if McIlroy is upset, but even if he faces the world No. 1 he has the game to advance, with six top-10 finishes in 12 starts this season.
6. Rory McIlroy: The new format did the top seed little favors. McIlroy will have to play well just to make it out of a stacked Group 1, then could face Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson just to make it to Sunday's semifinals. McIlroy will likely be favored in every match he plays, but his road to the finals is filled with obstacles.
7. Paul Casey: The Englishman has a strong match-play record and was runner-up at this event in both 2009 and 2010. Casey received a somewhat favorable draw, considering he was coming out of the C group, and is playing well enough to advance from the group considering his four top-10 finishes in his last six starts.
8. Ian Poulter: The match-play ninja. Poulter seems to come alive in this format, and he'll need to do so quickly if he's going to win a group that includes Jimmy Walker and Webb Simpson. Poulter's game has shown promise since his near-miss at the Honda, and his affinity for match play is a significant factor this week.
9. Patrick Reed: Like Poulter, Reed seems to reach another level in match play. He went 6-0 in the format at Augusta State, then shined last year at the Ryder Cup. While he faces a daunting potential match with Spieth in the round of 16, few players in the field will step to the first tee each day with more confidence.
10. Jason Day: A great player who received a brutal draw. Day nearly captured the title in New Orleans and hasn't finished worse than T-31 all season, but Zach Johnson and Charley Hoffman will make him work in the group stage and from there he could face Sergio Garcia and either Spieth or Reed just to make it to Sunday.