SAN FRANCISCO – While the one-and-done pressure that made WGC-Cadillac Match Play Wednesday the best hump day in golf has gone the way of the dodo bird, in its place is three days of round-robin roulette.
Players from 16 groups will square off at Harding Park on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (96 matches in total), which, in theory, would mean increasing pressure as hopefuls vie for a spot in Saturday’s Sweet 16.
Conversely, while Wednesday’s opening match isn’t exactly do-or-die, there will still be an exponentially increasing level of intrigue for the PGA Tour’s only individual match play event starting with what may be the proverbial “group of death” that includes world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner.
Here’s a glimpse at some of Day 1’s most compelling matches:
McIlroy vs. Dufner. While Dufner’s play this year has been largely pedestrian, the Northern Irishman’s record in the WGC-Match Play is not exactly dominant, with just two trips to the weekend in six starts.
Jordan Spieth vs. Mikko Ilonen. With respect to Ilonen, the 68th player in the world who was a last-minute replacement for Phil Mickelson, this could be Wednesday’s quickest match. If the Masters champion sees the 16th hole it will only be on his drive back to the clubhouse after a quick victory.
Adam Scott vs. Francesco Molinari. Although Scott still seems stuck between putters (to anchor, or not to anchor), Molinari has been on the DL since injuring his wrist earlier this season and just started hitting golf balls again last Friday. The bigger concern for Scott may be his Round 2 match against Paul Casey, who has all the markings of a solid dark horse.
Brandt Snedeker vs. Billy Horschel. A player who currently works for Todd Anderson (Horschel) against a former pupil of the Sea Island (Ga.) Resort-based swing coach (Snedeker) in a first-of-its-kind showdown of FedEx Cup champions. This is personal. Not really, but it should be entertaining.
Jimmy Walker vs. Gary Woodland. If McIlroy’s crew is the group of death, Group 11 may prove to be a close second. Walker showed amazing poise in his first Ryder Cup last year, but Woodland has the ability to overpower Harding Park. This one has extra holes written all over it.
Henrik Stenson vs. John Senden. Another match that screams for chalk, but Stenson hasn’t picked up a club since the Masters and still appears under the weather after a bout with the flu. Upset special.
Bubba Watson vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez. One is a fifty-something, cigar-smoking wine connoisseur and the other is Watson. Don’t sleep on the Spaniard, however. Although this would be an upset on paper, Jimenez was born for match play.
Rickie Fowler vs. Harris English. Rickie will be the crowd favorite, always is, but English seems poised for a big week following a stellar run last year in his first WGC-Match Play when he beat Lee Westwood in Round 1 and McIlroy on Day 2.
Graeme McDowell vs. Shane Lowry. In the same group as Fowler and English, this match is closer than it appears. Two years ago Lowry stunned McIlroy in Round 1 and was eventually dispatched by McDowell in the third round.
Ian Poulter vs. Webb Simpson. A rematch of last year’s Ryder Cup Sunday singles duel which ended in a tie. The nod would seemingly go to Poulter, the 2010 champion and undisputed match play magician, but being back in San Francisco has rejuvenated Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open across the street at The Olympic Club.
Brooks Koepka vs. Russell Henley. This appears to be a wash, but after being slowed by a strained rib during the Florida swing Koepka said he’s finally feeling 100 percent again, and could be this tournament’s not-so-sneaky Cinderella story.
Victor Dubuisson vs. Charl Schwartzel. Although his play since last year’s WGC-Match Play final has not been as electrifying, Dubuisson is turning into a quieter version of Poulter when it comes to match play after a solid Ryder Cup.
And the best part about the WGC-Match Play’s new round-robin format is we get to do this all over again on Thursday.