Every year, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is compared with NCAA’s version of March Madness – and every year, we’re “shocked” when 15 and 16 seeds knock off the supposed favorites.
Predicting the Match Play is often an exercise in futility. That doesn’t mean we should bust out the tarot cards and a crystal ball just yet.
Let’s apply a little knowledge to this week’s proceedings at Ritz-Carlton GC in Marana, Ariz., by breaking down each of the four brackets.
BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Strength: Winners. With Mark Wilson, Brandt Snedeker, Robert Rock and Kyle Stanley in the mix, one-quarter of this bracket has already claimed early-season wins.
Weakness: Depth in the middle. The strength here is both frontloaded and backloaded, but with middle seeds like Jason Dufner, Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari, there are some comparatively weak spots, too.
Best opening-round match: Dustin Johnson vs. Jim Furyk. Just call it “The Banger vs. The Plodder.” Our man Charlie Rymer compared this match with the tortoise and the hare fable – or maybe it was tortoise and the hair.
Best potential later-round match: Kyle Stanley vs. Brandt Snedeker. This would, of course, by a rematch of the Farmers Insurance Open playoff from just a few weeks ago, in which Snedeker won on the second extra hole at Torrey Pines.
Upset special: Robert Rock over Adam Scott. The recent champion in Abu Dhabi doesn’t often travel to the U.S., so don’t expect him to get back on a plane right away, especially against Scott, who looked fairly ordinary in his first start of the season last week.
Sleeper: Bo Van Pelt. With eighth-place finishes in each of his last two starts, BVP is showing signs of big things coming very soon.
Winner: Luke Donald. Last year’s champion is a tough out in this format due to his propensity for getting up and down from everywhere. A final round at Riviera that saw six consecutive bogeys at one point should be cause for concern, but expect the No. 1 seed to figure things out in a hurry.
BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Strength: Pressure players. This bracket includes a half-dozen competitors (Martin Kaymer, David Toms, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell, Y.E. Yang and Zach Johnson) who have won major championships. No other bracket has more than four.
Weakness: Slow play. Anytime Kevin Na and Ben Crane are involved in the same bracket, don’t expect things to move too quickly.
Best opening-round match: Hunter Mahan vs. Zach Johnson. That’s a tough one, though. Could be Graeme McDowell vs. Y.E. Yang or Bubba Watson vs. Ben Crane or Steve Stricker vs. Kevin Na. This bracket easily has the most intriguing opening-day matches of the four.
Best potential later-round match: Graeme McDowell vs. Hunter Mahan. A rematch of the deciding singles match from the most recent Ryder Cup would be must-see TV on both sides of the pond.
Upset special: Ben Crane over Bubba Watson. They may not sing together again, but helmet and unitard beats overalls and chest hair every time.
Sleeper: Greg Chalmers. The lefty isn’t a terrific ball-striker, but can get up and down from everywhere, which should frustrate opponents – including in his first-round match with Martin Kaymer.
Winner: Kevin Na. Slow and steady wins the race – or something like that. Na has been known to play sublime golf in the desert, once nearly winning his first PGA Tour event at the now-defunct tournament in Tucson.
GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Strength: Depth. From top to bottom, this is the deepest of the four brackets, with double-digit seeds going to such strong players as Geoff Ogilvy, Gary Woodland and recent Dubai Desert Classic champion Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
Weakness: Jetlag. Granted, many of these players own a home base here in the U.S., but strangely enough there are only two Americans in this bracket – Keegan Bradley and Gary Woodland.
Best opening-round match: Ian Poulter vs. Sang-moon Bae. With a victory at this event two years ago, Poulter has shown an obvious proficiency for this format, but don’t overlook Bae, who is a ball-striker of the highest magnitude.
Best potential later-round match: Rory McIlroy vs. Sergio Garcia. A potential third-round match on Friday between two of Europe’s greatest exports would display two of the world’s better tee-to-green players around.
Upset special: Rafael Cabrera-Bello over Jason Day. As mentioned, RCB is coming off a victory over a loaded field in his last start. Meanwhile, the Aussie only has a T-62 in his lone U.S. appearance this season.
Sleeper: Simon Dyson. Easily the most overlooked player in the current top-30 on the Official World Golf Ranking, he faces a favorable matchup in John Senden in the opening round.
Winner: Sergio Garcia. It took quite a while, but this just in: Sergio has learned how to putt. If he continues rolling his rock as he did on Sunday at Riviera, expect him to carry some momentum deep into the weekend.
SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Strength: Sleepers. Don’t call ‘em underdogs, but this bracket contains a handful of players (Nicolas Colsaerts, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Martin Laird, to name a few) whom the casual fan wouldn’t recognize, but have abilities that outweight their profiles.
Weakness: Strength at the top. The highest seed in this bracket is Lee Westwood, who has never seen a Friday in 11 appearances at this event. Next is Webb Simpson, who has never played. Then Bill Haas, who lost in the first round in his only previous start.
Best opening-round match: Webb Simpson vs. Matteo Manassero. This match should be a masterclass in how to get the ball into the hole without bombing, gouging or ever looking too pretty.
Best potential later-round match: Tiger Woods vs. Darren Clarke. A long time ago in a land far away, Clarke once defeated his buddy in the Sunday final of this event.
Upset special: Nicolas Colsaerts over Lee Westwood. The Belgian already owns three top-10s in four starts this year and was third at last year’s Volvo World Match Play Championship. He could be the second coming of Martin Kaymer someday soon.
Sleeper: Alvaro Quiros. Not that a guy who can bomb it 350 off the tee can ever be considered sleepy, but the wide fairways of Ritz-Carlton GC should allow for plenty of room to bomb it off the tee.
Winner: Nick Watney. He faces a potentially tough out in Tiger Woods on Thursday, but Watney stays surprisingly calm when thrown into the fire. If he gets past that match, he could have smooth sailing to the Final Four from there.