Although the main course is still a couple of weeks away, it's never too soon for an appetizer. No, it's not March Madness, but for golf fans around the globe all eyes will be fixed on the field at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship this week.
For the third consecutive year the tournament will be played in Marana, Ariz., a northwest suburb of Tucson. However, this year the tournament will move from The Gallery Golf Club to the neighboring Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. The 7,833-yard, par-72 Jack Nicklaus design provides a layout quite similar to TPC Scottsdale, but with a more rural, high desert feel.
Unlike the majority of PGA Tour events that begin on Thursday, the matches will begin on Wednesday morning and conclude on Sunday with the championship and consolation matches
The event has always been extremely popular with the golf community, but this year there is even more excitement due to the fact that for the first time in eight months, Tiger Woods will be competing. Tiger's history in this event has been extremely interesting.
For instance, last year Tiger was down early in a match to J.B. Holmes before storming back to win 1-up. He then used that momentum to march to the title, leaving the likes of Aaron Baddeley, Stewart Cink, and past champion Henrik Stenson in his wake.
Then there have been times where Woods could not escape the upset, losing to Aussie Nick O'Hern in both 2005 and 2007. However, many have speculated that Tiger would not come back this week if he was not ready to compete, and ultimately win.
The draw has been somewhat favorable to Woods, but if he gets past Aussie Brendan Jones in the first round, he'll have a date with South African Tim Clark or his fellow countryman and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
While I don't expect a lot from him this week, I think if Tiger can get through the first two rounds and knock some rust off, he has an outside chance to repeat.
Perhaps the most interesting topic heading into the tournament other than the return of Woods has been the strength and depth of the Ben Hogan bracket. This should be by far the most difficult bracket to predict due to the fact that it contains a wealth of former Ryder Cup team members and past major champions.
Even the No. 15 seeded Angel Cabrera won a U.S. Open less than two years ago. Although I don't project the winner of this bracket to get to the championship match, it wouldn't surprise me if they not only got there, but took home the trophy.
That said, here are a few predictions to keep an eye on this week:
Final Four Prediction: Geoff Ogilvy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Robert Karlsson.
Championship Match: Geoff Ogilvy def. Robert Karlsson
Consolation Match: Martin Kaymer def. Lee Westwood
How far will Tiger advance?: This is tricky because it is anybody's guess what type of form he's in, but I think he'll lose a very close match in the second round to Retief Goosen, with Goosen's clutch putting being the difference.
Best American Finisher: Anthony Kim, who I'm predicting to get to the Elite Eight but lose to Kaymer.
Sleeper Pick: Hunter Mahan
Biggest Surprise: 19-year-old Rory McIlroy advancing to the Elite Eight.
Biggest Disappointment: Paul Casey, who has been playing quite well so far this year, will lose to Aaron Baddeley in the opening round.
Here is a link to the printable bracket.