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Hooks & Cuts: More stories than matches at WGC

WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
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MARANA, Ariz. - There are 32 matches on the opening day of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and there are even more storylines.

• Sir Nick Faldo asked Boo Weekly how he planned on beating No. 1 seed Rory McIlroy. “Drink some beer, drink some wine and let ‘er rip,” Boo cracked while trying to sort out some clunky drives on the range. “Actually, I ain’t swingin’ it real well but you never know.” Boo’s back after a month off and he’s having some trouble scrapin’ the rust off.  By the way, if Boo was a car, he’d be a Chevy pickup with 130,000 miles. Not the prettiest thing – and maybe a bit dinged here and there – but comfortable, and still runnin’ pretty daggum’ good.

• Rory and Rickie were looking at pictures from that ’07 Walker Cup, marveling at just how different they now look. “I weigh the same,” said Rory with a laugh. “It’s just proportioned a little differently.” Fit like a gymnast, he rifled 3-woods that climbed to the top of the Tortolita Mountains. “I feel great,” he added. “I’m starting to play more by feel now.” The mechanical work he’s done over the last four months is becoming second nature.

• The world loves Graeme DeLaet and with good reason. But don’t sleep on his Round 1 opponent, Patrick Reed. He went 6-0 in match-play singles while leading Augusta State to consecutive NCAA titles, quick to point out that he beat Harris English to clinch the crown one year. He also made it to the semis of the 2008 U.S. Amateur before losing to eventual champ Danny Lee.

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• With his eyes welling up, Steve Stricker said his older brother, Scott, faces a long couple months after a liver transplant. “He’s had a tough go health wise,” said Steve of his only sibling. “I feel for him. Still, we’re very optimistic.” The doctors and Steve’s parents all encouraged him to play this week. Feeling a bit rusty but reasonably good about his game, he draws the rising South African George Coetzee. 

• In the absence of Tiger and Phil, what’s the sexiest final? Rory against Jordan Spieth works; so, too, does Sergio versus Spieth. Rory vs. Bubba, Stenson vs. Bubba or Henrik Stenson vs. Dustin Johnson would be nice as well. And I’d like to be ringside when the fists fly between Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley, who could also meet in the finals.

• When did Lake Nona neighbors Graeme McDowell and Gary Woodland find out they’d be squaring off in Round 1 of the WGC-Accenture Match Play? In mid-air while sharing a private plane from Orlando to Tucson. The idea now is to miss the flight home on Wednesday.

• Billy Horschel on his second-ranked Florida Gator hoops team: “We play the full 40 (minutes).” Playing his own version of Billy Ball, he split a pair of singles matches with Rory at the 2007 Walker Cup. Horschel gets Jamie Donaldson in the opener here. “Seems like everyone on ‘Morning Drive’ is picking Donaldson,” he said with a sly smile. “That’s fine.” It wasn’t, really, and that’s what’s fun about athletes.  

• Mike Walker now coaches Lee Westwood. He’s a 35-year-old from the U.K. and a disciple of Westwood’s old coach, Pete Cowan. Lee had been dipping into his left side on the takeaway, then back out of it on the downswing. They’re working on getting back into his right side on the takeaway. Lee’s strength has always been that he never hit it left. He had a two-way miss going.

• Tom Watson’s assistant, Andy North, is scouting this week at Dove Mountain. “We want guys to feel comfortable with us, so we’ll be out periodically” he said.

• In a move brokered by caddie Tony Navarro, Woodland recently spent a full day in South Florida with Tony’s old boss, Greg Norman. The Shark thought Gary was a bit tense in his upper body so they relaxed his right side, from his putter through his driver. Woodland wants to be great. He has the tools to do it.

• Stricker makes sense as the next Ryder Cup captain in 2016. He’s beloved by his peers, respected by the PGA of America and as a Wisconsin boy he’ll be right at home at Hazeltine in Minnesota. After Stricker in ‘16, the next logical choices would be Furyk and Mickelson. Mickelson feels like a good fit in Paris in 2018.

• Bill Belichick might like to line up in a two tight-end set with Stenson on one side and DJ on the other.

• European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said 28-year-old Dutchman Joost Luiten can really play. So, too, can Ryan Moore, his first-round opponent.

• The warm honey sun slipped behind the mountains, taking a final bow after a spectacular 80-degree Tuesday. It really snowed here last year?