Hot Seat: Playing with matches


MARANA, Ariz. – Feeling flush? It’s no wonder. The heat’s rising in the desert with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship outside Tucson this week.

With players taking their places on golf’s Hot Seat, here’s our special heat index for the Match Play extravaganza and the LPGA’s HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore:

Vulcan’s fire salt – Tiger Woods

Woods is on the climb, but his final-round Sunday stumbles at Pebble Beach and Abu Dhabi give pause.

What’s still missing? Is it just more time with the swing, or is there still an internal short circuit? Or is the putting stroke just not as reliable anymore?

The Accenture Match Play Championship should further illuminate because Woods normally thrives in the format. This might be just the tonic he needs to snap all the pieces back together. He won those three consecutive U.S. Juniors, those three consecutive U.S. Amateurs, and he has won this Match Play Championship three times. He is a staggering 32-8 in the Match Play Championship but is coming off a first-round elimination to Thomas Bjorn last year. Woods faces a first-time Accenture qualifier, Gonzalo Fernandez-Costano, who heaped proper respect on Woods while calling him “beatable.”

Luke Donald in the Northern Trust Open first round

Cayenne pepper – Luke Donald

The world No. 1 and defending champ, Donald got his run toward the top spot rolling by winning the Match Play title last year.

In breezing through six matches in ’11, Donald finished off all his foes before reaching the 18th green. He has won eight of his last nine matches in this event, and in his seven years in it, he has never been eliminated in the first round.

Donald, who meets former world No. 1 Ernie Els, is off to a sluggish start this season, tying for 48th in his European Tour debut at Abu Dhabi and tying for 58th in his first PGA Tour start at the Northern Trust Open last week. That start leaves him vulnerable to his closest world-ranking pursuers. No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Lee Westwood can overtake him for the top spot with victories this week. If McIlroy wins, Donald must reach the third round to hold his No. 1 ranking. If Westwood wins, Donald must reach the quarterfinals.

Ernie Els

Crushed caribe pepper flakes – Ernie Els

The Masters is seven weeks away, and Els has yet to qualify. He has played every Masters since 1994, finishing second twice (2000, ’04) among his six top-10 finishes. At 42, Els wants desperately to get back to Augusta National, but he must win one of the next six PGA Tour events to earn an invite, or play well enough to climb into the top 50 in the world rankings released the week before the Masters. Els is now ranked No. 68, but a strong finish this week will move him up. If he can make it to this week's finals, it's enough to push him into the top 50 as early as next week. With top-ranked Donald his first-round opponent, Els has hard work ahead. Els sports an overall 10-11 record in this event with four first-round eliminations.

Yani Tseng

Ghost peppers – Everybody but Yani Tseng playing HSBC Women’s Champions

Tseng needed just two starts to win again in this young LPGA season. Coming off 12 victories worldwide last season, Tseng will soon be rolling toward LPGA Hall of Fame qualification at just 23 years old. Who’s going to stop her from dominating again? That's the question for the rest of the LPGA. Tseng already has 21 Hall of Fame points, just six short of qualification.