Wednesday is one of the best days in golf – 64 of the world’s best players, 32 first-round matchups, an all-day slugfest.
Here are the five best:
This is a tough matchup for McDowell, who is one of the grittiest competitors on the planet. In his last six appearances in this event, he has either been bounced in the first round or advanced to at least the Round of 16. Last year, he bowed out in the quarterfinals. But facing Woodland, G-Mac will have a huge disadvantage off the tee on one of the biggest ballparks the players will face all season. Woodland lost in the first round in his only appearance here (2012), but he’s enjoyed a return to form this season, with a playoff loss at the CIMB Classic and two other top-15 finishes. This should be a fun matchup of contrasting styles.
2. Lee Westwood (8) vs. Harris English (9)
Westwood would seem to have a substantial edge in the match-play department, but English is familiar with the format, too, having played a bit of match play in college. (The NCAA Championship is now determined by a match-play final.) The 24-year-old certainly enjoys an advantage in current form. He already has five top-10s in the wraparound season, including the victory at the Mayakoba Classic, and is coming off a T-10 finish at Riviera. Westwood, meanwhile, announced last week that he is no longer working with swing coach Sean Foley, yet he posted his best finish of the season at Riviera, a tie for 20th. The Englishman finished fourth in this event in 2012, but other than that, he has never advanced past the second round.
It all comes down to the putter for Schwartzel, who kicked away a chance to win at Riviera with some suspect work on the greens in the final round. The ball-striking machine hasn’t fared particularly well in this event in the past; only once in five tries has he advanced past the Round of 32 (2010). Stadler is making his first career appearance at Dove Mountain, but he’s never played better. Earlier this month he won the Phoenix Open, and last week he finished a respectable T-23 at Riviera.
There should be a ton of birdies in this matchup. DeLaet was one of the revelations at the 2013 Presidents Cup, and he’s continued that fine form this season, recording top 10s in Malaysia, Shanghai, San Diego and Phoenix. Reed has been similarly hot, especially in the calendar year. After a record-setting victory at the Humana, he posted top-20s at Phoenix and Pebble Beach. In college, he went 6-0 in match play en route to leading Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles.
Neither player has been particularly impressive on the course in 2014, so perhaps they’ll just distract each other with colorful clothes until one concedes. Fowler has missed his last three cuts, including last week at Riviera, while Poulter hasn’t finished better than 47th in three PGA Tour starts. Then again, no one can turn it on in match play quite like the Englishman, who finished fourth here a year ago, won this event in 2010 and also captured the 2011 Volvo World Match Play title on the European Tour. His Ryder Cup record, especially in singles (4-0), speaks for itself.