The World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play Championship

The World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship
Thursday, Febrary 25th Sunday March 1st, 2009
The Ritz Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain , Marana , Arizona
The Golf Channel/NBC

by Matt of

Its nearly March and its time again to break out your brackets and pick the upsets and winners from the field of 64.golfers, that is.

This week is one of the most unique in golf as the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship takes center stage in the Arizona desert. There will be no Dick Vitale or Digger Phelps, no Gonzaga or George Mason, and no buzzer-beaters. Instead, there will be the unpredictability of match play, top-seeds getting bounced, and of course, Tiger Woods.

The Accenture Match Play is unlike any other tournament in the world. It easily boasts the strongest field top to bottom, with the top-64 players in the official world rank in attendance. The match play format rewards risky play and can be pill or poison to any player on any day. And it is the only time a round of 70 can beat a round of 69. All this together, along with a course holding its first PGA event, makes for a nightmare effort in picking a winnerbut well give it a try.

In case anyone needs a brush-up, match play differs from stroke play in that the hole is awarded to the player with the lower score on that hole. A player winning the first hole of that match would be one-up going into the second hole and so forth until one competitor is more holes ahead than are left to play. A player that is four holes ahead after 15 completed holes would be declared the winner, 4 and 3. Holes are considered to be halved if the players record the same score on a given hole and matches that are even at the end of 18 go into sudden death.

The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain is hosting the Accenture for the first time and the first thing that pops out about the course is the posted yardage of 7,833 yards. The course is at altitude, so the track will not play that long, but it stands as one of the longest in Tour competition by simple numbers. The course plays at par-72, but that is essentially void this week as the match play format negates the value of par.

Typically, we take a look at the golf sportsbooks and make three picks to win the event, a short, middle and long odds horse, so to speak. This week, we will highlight the #1 seeds from each bracket, pick our final four and pick an outright winner. Spoiler alert: It wont be Tiger. We havent forgotten the Mayakoba event running concurrently in Mexico . Weve made our standard picks for that Tour stop as well.

Tiger Woods #1 seed (Bobby Jones Bracket) 9 to 2 to win
There are so many factors in play as Woods returns this week. The health of his knee seems irrelevant, he wouldn’t play if he wasn’t healthy andhe won the U.S. Open last year on a shredded leg anyway. More importantly, the layoff and match play format will ultimately decide Tiger’s success this week. Woods is the defending champion and has two other Accenture wins in ’03 and ’04. Tiger can overwhelm any course or opponent with a tremendous overall game, but even he can get behind if he puts up a few bogeys. A bad stretch in a stroke play event can be overcome in the later rounds, but there isn’t always tomorrow in match play. A potential second round match with either Tim Clark or Reteif Goosen could bring early struggles, but look for Tiger to make a final four appearance.

Sergio Garcia #1 seed (Gary Player Bracket) 16 to1
Sergio is making his PGA debut in ’09 after a very strong finish to the ’08 season. Garcia was knocked off in thesecond round last year, but he is one of the best match play competitors considering his Ryder Cup experience. Garcia hits over 67% of his greens in regulation, which will put pressure on his opponents and cover up his sometimes spotty putter. Garcia has a very tough draw in his bracket with potential matches against Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Boo Weekley or Adam Scott should he advance in early matches. That group makes up one of the more consistent pods in the entire field, and will likely spell trouble for Garcia. For the record, we have Poulterbouncing Sergio on day two.

Vijay Singh #1 seed (Ben Hogan Bracket) 40 to 1
Vijay is also coming off recent knee surgery, and struggling a bit with two missed cuts since his return. Singh is still hitting a ton of greens, over 73%, but the putting woes of last year are back, and Vijay is currently ranked 191st in putting average. Assuming a round 1 victory, Luke Donald or Ben Curtis will prove a stiff challenge for a struggling Singh. If either can take out the #1 seed, the advantage swings to bracket #2 seed, Phil Mickelson.

Padraig Harrington #1 seed (Sam Snead Bracket) 28 to 1
Harrington is another #1 seed that is struggling coming into the week. Paddy is riding two missed cuts and is currently outside the top-90 in nearly all PGA stat categories. Paddy also draws the most dangerous #16 in Pat Perez. Perez is a birdie machine, fresh off a record setting performance at the Bob Hope. Should Harrington manage wins in early action, solid pros like Jim Furyk, Stuart Appleby, Justin Leonard and Anthony Kim will be waiting for him. Our bracket has Harrington out on the second day against Robert Allenby.

Tiger is the only #1 seed we have advancing past the first two rounds, mostly due to the quirky format. Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, underdogs at the Accenture not only have a chance in individual rounds, but have proven they can run deep into the event. Jeff Maggert, Steve Stricker, Darren Clarke and Kevin Sutherland have all won this tournament in previous years.

Our Semifinalists

Tiger Woods (#1 Jones) v. Luke Donald (#9 Hogan)
If Tiger is anywhere near peak performance, he should make quick work of his draw. We have him taking out Tim Clark, Mike Weir and Rory Sabbatini on his way to the final four. Our bracket has Luke Donald here after wins against Ben Curtis, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood. Donald has been in the top-25 in all four starts this year, including a 7th and 6th most recently. Luke is 6th on Tour in putting average and owns the lowest scoring average to this point. We are ending Tiger’s run here, sending him to the consolation match after a Donald upset.

Aaron Baddeley (#11 Player) v. K.J. Choi (#6 Snead)
Our bracketology has Baddeley here after wins against Paul Casey, Kenny Perry, Robert Karlsson and Adam Scott. This is likely the strongest bracket top to bottom, with more contenders than pretenders in this draw. Our road for Choi has him going through Anthony Kim, Davis Love III and Robert Allenby. Kim should prove the toughest test, but Choi certainly has the experience edge to get through probably the best second round match in the event. Once the players get here, we have Baddeley taking down Choi to advance to the title match. Baddeley is currently the best putter on Tour and it took Tiger 20 holes to get rid of him last year. Choi will hit more fairways and greens than Baddeley, but the match play edge almost always goes to the better putter.

Title Match

Luke Donald v. Aaron Baddeley
These two officially make up our picks to win with Donald at 33 to 1 and Baddeley at 50 to 1. Both players are tremendous putters, so expect a lot of back and forth in a close match. Donald is steadier with the edge in fairways, greens, all around and is our pick to win it all.

Consolation Match

Tiger Woods v. K.J. Choi
We usually make three picks to win and since there is little imagination in picking Woods, Choi becomes our third pick to win at 40 to 1. This match won’t mean much as far as any betting goes, but Woods would clearly have an edge just by making it this far. There is no way that Choi will be intmidated by Woods, so the match would be close, but Tiger is too strong if he is right.

Upset Alert:
Here are a few first round upsets that we are calling for on our bracket.

Jones #11 Sabbatini over #6 Jimenez

Hogan #13 Hansen over #4 Els

Player #13 Weekley over #4 Rose

Snead #15 Love III over #2 Stenson