MARANA, Ariz. – For all the talk of who isn’t at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and what is wrong with Dove Mountain, those who have braved altitude for the PGA Tour’s last pass through this corner of the high desert didn’t seem overly concerned with a lack of Q rating.
Even without the world Nos. 1, 2 and 4, there is still no mistaking the fact Match Play Wednesday is the best hump day on Tour, followed in short order by what has traditionally been the circuit’s worst Sunday.
The ultimate irony is Dove Mountain’s swansong Match Play will likely have some of the best weather this event has seen in some time.
“It’s nice to be wearing a T-shirt,” smiled Rory McIlroy in an ode to the blizzard of 2013. “I don’t have to wear any sweaters or mittens.”
One also gets the unmistakable feeling that fans won’t be required to wear any blinders. Without Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson the pretense of a favorite – always a misnomer during golf’s version of March madness – has been pushed aside like so many busted brackets.
In fact, if U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson is free on Wednesday he may want to settle in for a little pre-match scouting. Sixteen of Day 1’s 32 match-ups are potential Ryder Cup showdowns, beginning with Wednesday’s leadoff bout between Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler.
“Always nice to play match play, it’s no big secret with me,” Poulter said. “It’s one of the purest formats in golf. You can play fantastic, be 6 under par and be going home. You can shoot level par and be staying. So you just have to do enough to dispatch your opponent and hopefully I can do that tomorrow.”
The Englishman won this event in 2010 and is a staple, or thorn depending on one’s point of view, on the European Ryder Cup squad; while Fowler’s record in either the Match Play or Ryder Cup is not as impressive but his potential is just as relevant.
In what could be the day’s most entertaining match, Rory McIlroy will face Boo Weekley, and unless the Ulsterman has found some answers for his wayward driver, the Arizona desert will be no less kind than the sand he regularly found himself playing from last month in Dubai. As for Weekley we can only hope he heads down the first fairway riding his driver like a pony like he did at the 2008 matches.
“I’m not sure we share many common interests,” McIlroy said of Weekley. “I’ve never been hunting before in my life.”
And one can imagine that after introductions are made on the first tee there won’t be much talking between Bubba Watson, one of the Tour’s longest hitters and last week’s champion, and Mikko Ilonen, who ranked 143rd last year in driving distance.
Justin Rose and Scott Piercy, defending champion Matt Kuchar and Bernd Wiesberger, Harris English and Lee Westwood, Keegan Bradley and Jonas Blixt, Jordan Spieth and Pablo Larrazabal – all potential preludes to Sunday’s singles action later this year in Scotland.
While it may be a tad early to look too deeply at the Ryder Cup standings, Wednesday’s lineup is a long awaited reason to watch professional golf’s version of Benjamin Button even if your name is not Watson or Paul McGinley, Europe’s captain for this year’s matches.
More so than any other year, this year’s Match Play is akin to a Ryder Cup Lite, so much so one wouldn’t be surprised to hear the gallery around the first tee early Wednesday signing “Ola, Ola, Ola.”
But that chorus will ultimately lead to a final send off, be it grand or another grind, on Sunday when the Tour will serenade Dove Mountain one final time - Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.