This week sees the first World Golf Championship event of the year, the Accenture WGC Match Play event taking place at Dove Mountain, Arizona.
Many people will remember this event from last year when a sudden snowstorm turned the golf course, which is located in the middle of a desert, white.
As one of the big prize money WGC events, the Accenture WGC Match Play event should be showcasing the greatest talents in golf over the exciting format of match play, however this year three of the top four players in the world, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott have all declined to participate.
Their argument is that the timing of the tournament, the type of event it is (match play, as opposed to stroke play), the venue and the fact that after one round of golf, half the 64-strong field will be heading home, doesn’t fit in with their preparations towards the first Major of the year.
What is even more surprising is that this event is not given far greater publicity and promotion.
In an endless sea of stroke play events, a genuine match play tournament is truly exciting for golf fans. One only has to look at the excitement generated by match play events such as the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup to see that there is a real hunger for this type of golf.
Yet going forward from 2014, the WGC Accenture Match Play doesn’t even have a sponsor, a home course or seemingly, the endorsement of 75% of the top four golfers in the world, even despite a $9m prize fund and a top prize of $1.5m.
It is a sad state of affairs for an event which should be one of the highlights of the golfing calendar and which has the potential to serve up five days (the tournament starts on Wednesday to accommodate all the rounds of the competition in order to find the winner on Sunday) of explosive action.
That said, although three of the world’s most exciting golfers may be missing, it is still a strong field contesting the event, which American Matt Kuchar won last year, fending off 63 other players and a freak snowstorm, to claim the title.
Kuchar will be hoping to defend his title but faces plenty of stiff competition. Other winners of the event in the field include Hunter Mahan (2012), Luke Donald (2011), Ian Poulter (2010), Steve Stricker (2001) and Henrik Stenson (2007).
The First Round
Given that players are seeded and play off, lowest seed against highest seed, the draw has thrown up some intriguing matches in the first round.
The first match out on the course at 9.25am is arguably one of the best of the day when Ian Poulter, the European Ryder Cup hero of 2012, takes on America’s star player in 2010, Rickie Fowler.
Poulter is a past winner and has performed superbly well in this event, reaching the semi final or better in three out of ten visits. Fowler’s record is less than impressive, but this promises to be an exciting match to start the competition off.
Other games to catch the eye in the first round include Keegan Bradley v Jonas Blixt, Jordan Spieth v Pablo Larrazabal, Jason Day v Thorbjorn Olesen, Luke Donald v Matteo Manassero, Rory McIlroy v Boo Weekley and Louis Oosthuizen v Nick Watney.
The First Round Draw
- Ian Poulter (Eng) v Rickie Fowler (US)
- Jimmy Walker (US) v Branden Grace (S.Af)
- Bubba Watson (US) v Mikko Ilonen (Fin)
- Keegan Bradley (US) v Jonas Blixt (Swe)
- Steve Stricker (US) v George Coetzee (S.Af)
- Graham DeLaet (Can) v Patrick Reed (US)
- Jordan Spieth (US) v Pablo Larrazabal (Spa)
- Thomas Bjorn (Den) v Francesco Molinari (Ita)
- Sergio Garcia (Spa) v Marc Leishmann (Aus)
- Bill Haas (US) v Miguel Angel Jiminez (Spa)
- Dustin Johnson (US) v Peter Hanson (Swe)
- Victor Dubuisson (Fra) v Kevin Streelman (US)
- Jason Day (Aus) v Thorbjorn Olesen (Den)
- Jamie Donaldson (Wal) v Billy Horschel (US)
- Matt Kuchar (US) v Bernd Wiesberger (Aut)
- Ryan Moore (US) v Joost Luiten (Hol)
- Charl Schwartzel (S.Af) v Kevin Stadler (US)
- Jim Furyk (US) v Chris Kirk (US)
- Graeme McDowell (N.Ire) v Gary Woodland (US)
- Hideki Matsuyama (Jap) v Martin Kaymer (Ger)
- Brandt Snedeker (US) v David Lynn (Eng)
- Webb Simpson (US) v Thongchai Jaidee (Thai)
- Jason Dufner (US) v Scott Stallings (US)
- Luke Donald (Eng) v Matteo Manassero (Ita)
- Rory McIlroy (N.Ire) v Boo Weekley (US)
- Lee Westwood (Eng) v Harris English (US)
- Zach Johnson (US) v Richard Sterne (S.Af)
- Hunter Mahan (US) v Gonzalez Fernandez-Castano (Spa)
- Henrik Stenson (Swe) v Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thai)
- Louis Oosthuizen (S.Af) v Nick Watney (US)
- Justin Rose (Eng) v Scott Piercy (US)
- Ernie Els (S.Af) v Stephen Gallacher (Sco)
The Overall Winner?
Which out of the 64 players starting the event will follow Matt Kuchar into the history books as the 2014 winner of the event?
Only Tiger Woods (2003, 2004 and 2008) and Geoff Ogilvy (in 2006 and 2009) have won the event more than once since it was first contested in 1999.
Playing well in the event though does seem to stand players in good stead.
Hunter Mahan was beaten in the 2013 final after winning in 2012, Geoff Ogilvy won in 2006, and was a losing finalist in 2007.
Tiger Woods won in 2003, 2004 and 2008 after losing in the final to Darren Clarke in 2000, while David Toms finished 2nd in 2003 and then won the event in 2005.
Both Paul Casey (2009, 2010) and Davis Love III (2004, 2006) have reached more than one final, without winning the event.
Therefore, Matt Kuchar should fancy his chances of doing well in the event in 2013 and at odds of 30/1 with Bet365, he is a tempting bet.
Clear favourite is Rory McIlroy (12/1), with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson 18/1 shots. Henrik Stenson is an attractive bet at 20/1 too.
However my choice for the weekend from the top players is Hunter Mahan, whose record at the event is sensational over the past two years. At 22/1, he is a worthy Each Way bet, along with Ian Poulter at 35/1 and for a real outside bet, take Frenchman Victor Dubiosson, who at 90/1 could surprise a few pundits this week.
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