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Bunker Shots The Grind of Match Play

Accenture Match Play Championship

PGA Tour stroke-play events are like marathons.

Players off to the fastest starts don’t necessarily win. It’s about jockeying for position for that stretch run on the back nine on Sunday.

phil mickelson tiger woods
We've never seen a Tiger vs. Phil final in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and we won't this year either. (Getty Images)
Match play is nothing like that.

Match play is more like a brawl, figuratively speaking. It’s all about knocking out the guy standing in front of you. It’s about winning right from the first hole. There’s winning and losing every hole. There's some sense of finality over every putt. It creates a sense of drama you don’t feel in the early rounds of PGA Tour events.

It’s what makes the opening rounds of the Accenture Match Play Championship among the best in golf, outside the major championships, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup.

Stance: As much fun as there will be the first two days of the Accenture Match Play Championship at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain outside Tucson, Ariz, the Sunday final is typically anticlimactic when the pace of the action slows. We haven’t seen a Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson finish in the 11-year history of the event and won’t again this year with neither player in the field.

Takeway:  What’s the best possible final? How about a Dustin Johnson vs. Rory McIlroy showdown? There will be some drama in who most persuasively states his case as the best player in the world under 30.

Bunker shot: There’s the old adage that anything can happen in match play. Tell that to Geoff Ogilvy. He’s 17-2 at the Accenture Match Play Championship with three appearances in the finals and two titles. His short game keeps him in every match. Henrik Stenson is also worth watching. He beat Ogilvy in the final in ’07 and has a 12-3 overall record in the event.

Honda PTT LPGA Thailand

The LPGA can boast being 1-up on the PGA Tour in its season opener at the Siam Country Club’s Old Course in Chonburi, Thailand.

At least all the stars show up when the women’s season begins.

This week actually feels like a season opener with every player in the top 10 in the world rankings teeing it up. OK, I know, the LPGA’s best tee it up almost every week there’s an event because they play so few of them. Natalie Gulbis reports committing to every event. Strength of fields is the upside of the LPGA’s down side.

The LPGA schedule features 25 official events this season, down from 34 two seasons ago.

Stance: Lorena Ochoa held off Jiyai Shin in a tight battle for Rolex Player of the Year that came down to the final hole of the final event last season. All eyes will be on Ochoa to see if she still towers atop the women’s game or if her marriage in December signifies a turn toward other priorities. She became an instant mom to three children when she wed AeroMexico executive Andres Conesa. Though Ochoa won Player of the Year for the fourth consecutive year, she wasn’t as dominant last season, winning three titles. She won 21 times over the three previous seasons.

Takeway: The Americans will be looking to bounce back after winning just five times in 2009, the fewest in any season since the LPGA was founded in 1950. After a season slowed by stomach ailments and injury, Paula Creamer appears healthy and ready to help the American cause after a winless campaign in 2009. Cristie Kerr lays claim to being the best American woman in the world with 12 LPGA titles, including the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open. Her No. 5 Rolex Women’s World Ranking makes her the highest ranked American woman. Creamer’s next at No. 7.

Bunker shot: Michelle Wie will make her 2010 debut with expectations running high following her breakthrough victory at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in the second to last event of her rookie campaign a year ago. With her stellar play at the Solheim Cup, Wie looked as if she elevated her confidence. More importantly, she looked as if she had rekindled her love of the game. With her strong Q rating, she’s capable of igniting new interest in the tour like nobody else in the women’s game. There’s no policy or plan new commissioner Michael Whan could implement that would do more for the popularity of the tour than for Wie to go on a winning streak.

Mayakoba Classic

You don’t have to be a bomber to win this tourament.

Straight shooters have taken home the title in each of the first three years of the event. Fred Funk won the inaugural title three years ago at El Camaleon Golf Club in the Playa del Carmen region of Mexico. Brian Gay won it two years ago and Mark Wilson last year.

Stance: Mark Calcavecchia and Tom Pernice Jr. might not be done adding to their PGA Tour resumes. Calcavecchia, who turns 50 on June 12, will forget all the aches and pains his body’s giving him if he can get himself into position to win his 14th PGA Tour title come Sunday. Pernice, who won the SAS Championship as a Champions Tour rookie last year, is a two-time PGA Tour winner who is still capable of beating the young guys.

Takeaway: Wilson enjoyed a good year with his Mayakoba Classic victory last season, but he found plenty to motivate him going into 2010. He fell one shot short of a trip to the Tour Championship last fall and the Masters invitation that would have gone with it. A victory this week won’t get him into his first Masters, but it’s a good place to jump start his game with the Honda Classic in two weeks. Wilson won at Honda three years ago. A Masters invite does go to the Honda winner.

Bunker shots: When you’re talking about the best players who haven’t won a PGA Tour event, Briny Baird’s in the conversation. He tied for sixth at the Mayakoba Classic last year. Baird has four runner-up finishes in his 11-year PGA Tour career among 26 top-10 finishes. As it is with so many Tour pros, it’s all about his putting.

Allianz Championship

Four years ago, Mike Goodes made his living behind a desk as co-owner of Cardinal Recycling in Reedsville, N.C. Three years ago, he turned pro as a golfer. Last year, he won the Allianz Championship at The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, Fla.

Goodes beat a field that included 38 players who had combined to win more than 100 major championships on the PGA and Champions tours.

While we mostly watch the Champions Tour to see the legends of the game, Goodes was a wonderful story. He’s back to defend his title after showing good form with a tie for fourth last week at the Ace Group Classic in Naples, Fla.

Stance: Fred Couples isn’t in the field after winning in Naples last week. He’s already the main event on the senior circuit. There’s going to be Freddie events and non-Freddie events this year.

Takeaway: Couples may not be in the field, but another hot rookie is. Tommy Armour III finished a shot behind Couples last week and will be looking to improve a spot in the standings in Boca Raton this week. Paul Azinger tied for 21st in his Champions Tour debut last week.

Bunker shot: Bernhard Langer plays a home game this week. He's a long-time Boca Raton resident. He met his wife, Vikki, at the Honda Classic in South Florida in 1983. They married a year later. Langer would love to win for all the family and friends who will turn out to cheer him this week.

And also . . .

The Nationwide Tour moves to Panama for the Claro Panama Championship with Vance Veazey back as the defending champion.