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Ultimate Match Play Championship Round 1 predictions

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GolfChannel.com kicks off Round 1 of its Ultimate Match Play Championship this week, where you get to vote on who is the greatest of the greats. Our writers weigh in with their opening-round predictions. Click here for Ultimate Match Play Championship bios:


Match 1: (1) Jack Nicklaus vs. (16) Phil Mickelson

Mell: Nicklaus – Lefty will impress Jack with some abracadabra around the greens, but there’s no stopping the Golden Bear on his fantasy collision course with Tiger Woods.

Sobel: Nicklaus – Much like at an NCAA hoops opening-round game, the fans may be clamoring for the 16 seed to pull off the impossible. And much like one of those games, it won’t happen, as the top seed advances here.

Hoggard: Nicklaus – The game’s best short game is no match for the best player of all time, but it will be a close match that probably comes down to a wayward drive or misplayed recovery shot on the last hole for Lefty.

Lavner: Nicklaus – The greatest of all-time versus one of the greatest escape artists in the game’s rich history? Always take the former, especially when it’s a bulldog like Jack. Nicklaus wins, 3 and 2.

Gray: Nicklaus – The Golden Bear will be eager to assert – and reinforce – his position at the top of the bracket, and Lefty will have one errant drive too many.


Match 2: (2) Tiger Woods vs. (15) Seve Ballesteros

Mell: Woods – Tiger and Seve make this match look like Houdini vs. Harry Blackstone with their shot-making sorcery, but Woods pulls the win out of his deeper bag of tricks.

Sobel: Woods – The most intriguing matchup of the first round. Tiger has been known to get thrown off by a camera click; how will he deal with coins jangling in the opponent’s pocket? Seve takes him the distance, but expect Woods to survive and advance.

Hoggard: Woods – Seve gets up and down from 17 Mile Drive, from behind the lone cypress tree and a car park adjacent the Lodge, but it’s not enough to beat Woods at Pebble Beach, where he once won a U.S. Open by 15 strokes.

Lavner: Woods – Seve would bring his best gamesmanship for this duel, but Woods at his best dispatches the feisty Spaniard easily, 5 and 4.

Gray: Woods – Perhaps no match would feature two more fiery stares, but the edge goes to Woods, one of few players who can go toe-to-toe with Ballesteros in the scrambling department.


Match 3: (3) Ben Hogan vs. (14) Nick Faldo

Mell: Hogan – Faldo met and admired Hogan, but the Wee Ice Mon freezes out Faldo in first-round triumph.

Sobel: Hogan – Two words: 'Hello. Thanks.' That’s what each man will say to the other – one on the first tee, the other on the final green. In between, the the Hawk will be too much for Nasty Nick to handle; though, he may see some of himself in the youngster.

Hoggard: Hogan – Not a word is spoken between the two and the Hawk rifles his way to an easy Round 1 victory via a ball-striking clinic.

Lavner: Hogan – If Hogan is at the peak of his powers – in 1953, when he won three majors in what became known as the “Hogan Slam” – then even a former world No. 1 such as Faldo will fall short, 4 and 2.

Gray: Hogan – This match may not feature a missed fairway or green, but the battle of ball-strikers goes to the more seasoned veteran.


Match 4: (4) Bobby Jones vs. (13) Lee Trevino

Mell: Jones – The Merry Mex gives Jones the fight of his life, but Jones won’t let Trevino play giant killer this time.

Sobel: Jones – Jones co-founded Augusta National. Trevino abhorred it so much that he changed his shoes in the parking lot. This is your classic rivalry game, which means anything can happen, but expect Jones to pull it out in the end.

Hoggard: Jones – Legendary golf scribe O.B. Keeler will later call this match the “clash of the sneer and the smile,” but Jones gets the last laugh with a handy victory.

Lavner: Jones – Jones was one of the best amateurs the game has ever seen, winning six U.S. Amateurs during his abbreviated career, which is precisely the kind of match-play prowess that will overwhelm the “Merry Mex.” Jones wins, 5 and 4.

Gray: Jones – Unaffected by Trevino’s showmanship, Jones quietly goes about his game – one that turns out to be just as effective as it was in 1930.


Match 5: (5) Sam Snead vs. (12) Billy Casper

Mell: Snead – The sweet-swinging Snead has to knock some flagsticks down to hold off Casper and his magic putting stroke.

Sobel: Snead – The man atop the PGA Tour wins list faces off against perhaps the most underrated man in this entire tournament. This one comes down to a putting contest, as Snead goes side-saddle on the back nine to claim the victory.

Hoggard: Snead – The man who won 82 PGA Tour titles cruises to a first-round victory over Casper, who managed to win just 51 times in his prolific career. 

Lavner: Snead – Sweet-swinging Sammy was a prolific winner in his day, but even he would receive a stern test from one of the game’s most underrated players. Snead, though, squeaks out a close one, 2 up.

Gray: Casper – One of the most underrated players of all time strikes again, as Casper rallies to defeat Snead, who is undone by a balky putter.


Match 6: (6) Arnold Palmer vs. (11) Gene Sarazen

Mell: Palmer – With his blacksmith’s slash, Palmer survives yet another Sarazen double eagle to advance.

Sobel: Palmer – Expect the man known as The King to employ his usual aggressive style to victory – and don’t be surprised if he pulls off an upset or two in this tourney down the road.

Hoggard: Sarazen – The Squire secures the opening round’s upset special when he holes out a 4-wood for a double eagle at Pebble’s iconic closing hole.

Lavner: Palmer – In match play it’s all about momentum, and with the King’s record of seven majors and 62 PGA Tour wins, and the support of Arnie’s Army behind him, Palmer steamrolls to a 4-and-3 victory.

Gray: Palmer – Palmer’s advantage off the tee consistently gives him the upper hand, and he holes a few more birdies than Sarazen as a result.


Match 7: (7) Byron Nelson vs. (10) Tom Watson

Mell: Nelson – The master schools a favorite student in a classic matchup.

Sobel: Nelson – This will be as gentlemanly a match as we’ll ever see, as mentor and mentee square off less as rivals than friends. Watson used to visit Nelson’s ranch and has always had great admiration for him. A conceded 3-foot putt on the last will give Lord Byron the win.

Hoggard: Watson – Watson chips in from the rough behind the 17th hole for birdie to clip Lord Byron on a cold, windswept day that felt more like a British Open.

Lavner: Watson – Iron Byron won a remarkable 11 tournaments in a row in 1945, but one of the favorites has to lose sometime. Might as well be to Watson, who puts on a punishing ball-striking clinic to steal a 2-and-1 victory.

Gray: Watson – Watson’s timeless swing continues to pay dividends, as he rekindles images of the “Duel in the Sun” to edge out Lord Byron.


Match 8: (8) Walter Hagen vs. (9) Gary Player

Mell: Hagen  – Hagen lives up to his reputation, barely making his tee time, but in the end he’s still the toast of the town.

Sobel: Player – As Hagen hops out of his limo a minute before their tee time, Player will have already knocked out 1,000 sit-ups while waiting. Give me the guy who wants it more, as Player advances in the only first-round “upset” in the tournament.

Hoggard: Player – The Haig arrives 10 minutes before his tee time in a limousine, but it’s the Black Knight who scores the victory and celebrates his triumph by performing 200 sit ups on the 18th green.

Lavner: Hagen – No player has the stamina to hang with Hagen quite like Player, but it’s hard to dismiss Hagen’s match-play record in the 1920s. Hagen wins, 3 and 1.

Gray: Hagen – Though Player’s effort remains relentless, Hagen is able to show just why he is known as the best match-player of all time.

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