The WGC Accenture Matchplay begins tomorrow at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. It is a breath of fresh air to have such a large event with a deep field played in matchplay format.
The Accenture Matchplay Championship is the March Madness of the PGA Tour. The top 64-players (minus Phil Mickelson, who is taking a well-deserved respite with his family after a stretch of tournaments) broken down into four smaller brackets, exactly like the NCAA Tournament.
I want to examine each bracket and identify who are the favorites and who are the sleepers.
Bobby Jones Bracket:
Favorite: Luke Donald
Donald is the defending champion at this event, and despite a disappointing Sunday 78 last week at the Northern Trust Open, the world no.1 is the man to beat in this bracket. Donald’s short game is his biggest asset in match play, because just when you think you have him beat, he can get up and down from anywhere. This can break an opponent’s concentration and give him the edge.
Sleeper: Kyle Stanley
Stanley, aka the comeback kid, is in the best stretch of his young PGA Tour career. After blowing a three-shot lead on the final hole at Torrey Pines, he stormed back from eight down the next week to win at the Waste Management Open. Stanley’s ball striking has been the talk of the Tour as he routinely hit drives in excess of 330 yards in his last two events. The pressure is off for Stanley and he can now focus on playing to his great potential. Plus he is a sentimental favorite of mine as I used to cover him when he played for Clemson several years ago. My objective mind says that Jim Furyk may be a better sleeper in this bracket, but the hot play of Stanley gives him an edge in match play, where it is crucial to get off to a fast start.
Ben Hogan Bracket:
Favorite: Martin Kaymer
Kaymer, while he hasn’t made a whole lot of noise since his victory at the 2010 PGA Championship and subsequent world no.1 ranking, is rounding into form and should be considered the favorite to advance out of this bracket. He advanced to the final match last year where he lost to Luke Donald. Kaymer underwent swing changes the last few years and seems to be on the upswing.
Sleeper: Y.E. Yang
Yang is somewhat of an enigma. The 2009 PGA Championship winner goes through some stretches where he evokes memories of his major win, and others where his game looks fragile. Anyone who can stare down Tiger Woods (back when he was still Tiger) on the Sunday of a major and beat him has the mental toughness and gamesmanship to contend in this event. If he can channel those memories, look for him to advance out of this bracket.
Gary Player Bracket:
Favorite: Rory McIlroy
While it seems too easy to pick another no.1 seed as the favorite, there can be no other choice than McIlroy in this Bracket. McIlroy has started his season well, finishing in the top-5 at Dubai a few weeks ago. His game is well-suited for matchplay because he makes a lot of birdies in a short amount of time. Birdies, especially in streaks, can make a player hard to defeat in match play.
Sleeper: Ian Poulter
Poulter is a dangerous 6-seed in this event. For whatever reason, matchplay gets Poulter’s juices flowing. Like McIlroy, Poulter gets on birdie streaks and can become tough to beat. One of the knocks on Poulter is his motivation from week to week, but that shouldn’t be a problem in matchplay.
Sam Snead Bracket:
Favorite: Tiger Woods
Did you really think there would be another name here? Despite the “5” next to his name, Woods is a three-time champion at this event and has an absolutely stunning match play record, winning three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur, and three consecutive U.S. Amateur Championships. If Woods can hole mid-range putts, he should be able to advance to the final-four of the Championship.
Sleeper: Alvaro Quiros
Quiros can hit the ball a country mile — Or is it a country kilometer for the Spaniard? Either way, his distance is a huge advantage in match play. If you have ever played golf you know the mental advantage of being able to outdrive your partner on a regular basis. Quiros gets to have a wedge in his hand when many others have as much as 8 or 7-iron. That kind of advantage cannot be overlooked.
However the brackets play out, this format is extremely entertaining for golf fans. The change of pace from the normal events is interesting, and more of the competitive fire can be seen from even normally reserved players. Think of it like a precursor to the Ryder Cup. Let the Madness begin.