The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is one of the more unique tournaments in the world of golf. Instead of the stroke play format of most tournaments, players will again have the opportunity to compete head-to-head for the Walter Hagen Cup.
Sixty-four of the biggest names in golf will take to Dove Mountain in a bracket-format tournament, divided into four groups of players seeded one through 16. When the final ball drops in the cup, only one golfer will be left standing to claim the title—and a hefty payday.
Hunter Mahan rolled past the competition last year en route to a victory in the tournament, but current No. 1 golfer in the world Rory McIlroy finished second, and he’ll look to avenge his loss starting Wednesday with a matchup against Shane Lowry.
Tiger Woods is right behind McIlroy in the world rankings, and he’ll aim to take home the Walter Hagen Cup for the fourth time. He won it back-to-back years in 2003 and 2004, and repeated the feat again in 2008. With a resurgent win at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January, he looks to be in position to once again dominate the competition this season.
We’ll take a look at some of the best matchups to watch in the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Tournament, set to begin on February 20.
*Full list of pairings can be found at ESPN.com.
Graeme McDowell (5) vs. Padraig Harrington (12)
McDowell got a late start to his season this year, passing on some tournaments prior to last week’s Northern Trust Open. He missed the cut in that tournament, but he should be ready to pick up where he left off last year after shaking off the cobwebs at Riviera.
The world’s No. 19 golfer will be paired with Padraig Harrington, who currently sits at No. 50 in the world golf rankings. Harrington didn’t finish well in the Northern Trust Open, either (No. 80), but he has three major tournament wins to his name, and he’s always a threat to string together some low rounds, especially in match play.
The beauty of match play is in the individual matchups. Both golfers need a good weekend to get their season heading in the right direction, and both are very capable of doing so.
Rickie Fowler (8) vs. Carl Pettersson (9)
In what should prove to be one of the closest matches of Round 1, No. 34 Ricky Fowler will take on No. 35 Carl Pettersson in the hopes of advancing to Round 2 of the tournament.
Fowler is one of the game’s most exciting young stars—to say nothing of his loud fashion choices. The 24-year-old Oklahoma State grad is a rising star, and he’s always worth watching on the weekends.
Pettersson is one of the most decorated Swedish golfers on the PGA Tour. He’s won five times on the tour in his career, and will look to add to his impressive resume in the match play tournament.
Neither have a particularly high seed in the tournament, but don’t be surprised to see the winner of this matchup make a deep run into the weekend.
Tiger Woods (1) vs. Charles Howell III (16)
There isn’t much that needs to be said for Woods. He’s still the best golfer on the planet, despite seeing a decline in play in the last few years.
Woods seems to have it figured out, and his win at the Farmers Insurance Open proves he’s ready to make a big splash on the tour this year. He’s a heavy favorite to bounce Howell from the tournament in Round 1, but he’ll still need to prove he can hang in match play—an area in which he hasn’t been particularly dominant in recent years.
The world’s No. 66 golfer, Howell will have his work cut out for him. The 33-year-old has two career wins on tour, but he’d love to punctuate a big victory this week by edging out Woods in the first round.
The matchup might not be especially intriguing, but any match with Woods is a good match to watch.
Zach Johnson (6) vs. Jason Day (11)
The 25-year-old Day is just No. 43 in the world rankings, but don’t let that fool you; he’s fully capable of making a big impression in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Day finished second in both the Masters and U.S. Open in 2011, proving he has the talent to best some of the most talented players in the world. He’s still looking for a signature win, and while the match play tournament isn’t the Masters, it would still be a pretty good starting point.
Johnson finished tied for 23rd in the Humana Challenge in January, and the world’s No. 26 player will look to stack up another nice finish this weekend. The 36-year-old has nine victories on the PGA Tour to date, including a 2007 Masters victory.
This should be one of the more evenly matched pairings of the round, and it’s certainly one to tune in for.