Some of golf's brightest stars are descending on Arizona to participate in the Accenture Match Play Championship, the first World Golf Championships event of the season. Four of the top five players in the world will play in the event, guaranteeing major star power for the PGA.
The event's history, though, has shown that the stars don't always take home the trophy at the end: This is anyone's game.
Last year's winner, Hunter Mahan, will look to defend his championship, but the field also includes all of the past 10 winners, meaning there is plenty of experience present. Mahan will have trouble defending his championship with former winners like Tiger Woods, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald nipping at his heels.
Of course, Rory McIlroy is the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, and he has never won here. The Irish star has to be considered a top threat.
Breaking down the course, Dove Mountain is very long, nearing 8,000 yards. That will hurt players such as Jim Furyk and Tim Clark, who don't generate much power off the tee.
Power will certainly help on No. 2, which features a large bunker 67 yards short of the green. Powerful hitters can go for the green in two strokes, but risk-averse and less powerful players will have to settle for getting there in three on the par-5. Other holes feature a similar emphasis on ball striking and decision making.
With this in mind, let's take a look at McIlroy, Mahan and the rest of the favorites for the Accenture Match Play Championship.
This event has a history of repeat winners, with Tiger Woods winning three times over the past 10 years and Geoff Ogilvey winning twice in the same span.
On paper, Mahan isn't well suited to this course, as power off the tee and approaches from 150+ yards out are both weak points for the American.
That having been said, Mahan is a steady player who could capitalize from the field's over-aggressiveness. Mahan simply needs to stay with his opponent during the round, capitalizing on mistakes when possible.
Depending on who Mahan draws in the first round, he could definitely gain some momentum with his consistency and score a second title.
Golf's most famous star will be a major contender to win the championship, as he seeks to win his fourth Accenture Match Play Championship in 10 years.
Two stats support Tiger's bid to take this event. First, he is ranked second in the PGA with a stunning 307.3 yard driving average. That power will serve Woods well at an event designed for big hitters.
Second, Tiger's ability to approach from distance is huge. Woods ranks 48th in the tour in approach accuracy from 200-plus yards out, a skill which will make the Par 5's into potential eagle situations.
The matchplay format also plays to Woods' strengths, as it encourages aggressive play. Woods has always been an aggressive player, and that edge, combined with his power, should keep him firmly in the hunt.
The statistics that give Tiger a good chance to take this event play even more into Rory McIlroy's hand, which is why the world's No. 1 player has to be considered the favorite.
McIlroy averaged 310 yards per drive last season, good for fifth on the tour, combined with a No. 2 ranking in approach accuracy from 200-plus.
With power and accuracy like that, McIlroy will be able to play this course aggressively and dominate the par-5's and longer par-4's.
For sure, McIlroy played excellent golf here in 2012, losing to Mahan in the final. With another year of development and even more confidence from a brilliant 2012, expect McIlroy to a least be in the hunt in the tournament's final day.
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