No matter who is in the field or who is eliminated, the fun of Accenture Match Play is the guessing. Will Henrik Stenson go all the way to the finals? Will Rory McIlroy last until the end or lose in the first round? Will Justin Rose play like he did at the U.S. Open? Will Zach Johnson use his veteran moves to take down opponents with his short game? They are the top four seeds in the event and deserve respect. Any one of them could win.
And finally, the biggest guess: What will happen to the tournament, now in the last year of sponsorship with Accenture?
Stenson, who finished 2013 at the head of the class, winning the FedExCup and the Race to Dubai, may still be the strength of the field. Can he turn it back on for six rounds? Based on current form, the toughest challengers in his bracket are probably Webb Simpson, followed by Jason Day.
Justin Rose faces perhaps a tougher road than Stenson. He has to outduel players who include Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth.
McIlroy has been hanging around recent leaderboards, and he has played in the desert if you count the Middle Eastern desert. To reach the finals, he has to overcome a group that includes Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, the always dangerous Ian Poulter and this year’s hot player, Jimmy Walker.
Zach Johnson has some heavy lifting to get through his bracket, but that is not a new position for him. He is a self-admitted king of the underdogs. He must outshoot Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley.
Could all the No. 1 seeds get to the final? Sure, but it’s like picking winners in the men’s downhill. It should be Bode Miller, but it doesn’t happen, and that’s what makes this event such fun. In Accenture Match Play, there are always surprises, there are always extra holes played and there’s always a chance for someone in the top 64 to emerge as a new dominant player.
For all we know it might be Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Finland’s Mikko Ilonen in the final, but in our hearts, we are more inclined to believe Hunter Mahan versus Bill Haas.
The biggest guessing game is about the future of the event. Will it continue and where? Who might be the sponsor? Rumors have been flying, but until the PGA Tour makes an announcement, no one will know for certain.
Most everyone agrees that the tournament will not return to Dove Mountain which, like La Costa before it, was subject to the whims of winter weather.
Keeping the tournament in February narrows the available locations to something south of Interstate 10, and even that isn’t 100 percent safe. Ponte Vedra Beach, below I-10, for example, is not a place where the PGA Tour could comfortably hold a golf tournament in February. It might be a great week, with weather in the 70s, and it might be an awful week with weather in the 50s. (Most likely snow is out of the question, however.)
So where else could golf be played in February?
South Florida is a possibility, but it would have to be south of Orlando like Naples or Fort Lauderdale or Miami or West Palm Beach, all places that have other tournaments.
In January, right now, Florida belongs to the Champions Tour. Palm Springs is safe weather-wise, but with the Humana already in January, would it be smart to stack another tournament in what is a relatively small golf market? Phoenix might be able to handle two events because of the size of the community. Houston could be another candidate. But would it not be better to go to a community that is currently underserved? San Francisco has the same weather in June and January, so it emerges as a possibility.
If the event moved back a month, into January, it could pick an island, like Hawaii, and jump in before or after the Hyundai. If islands are in favor, it could go east, to Puerto Rico, to Jamaica, to the Bahamas and keep the same slot it has now.
Now there is another unknown in the calendar that might affect when the match play is scheduled, and that is the Wells Fargo event in Charlotte, which finishes its agreement this year. The Quail Hollow golf course is committed to the 2015 PGA Championship, and whether the membership can give up their golf for most of a season is a big question. Maybe they will take a one-season hiatus and return to the PGA Tour schedule in 2016.
Should Wells Fargo opt out, that opens up a week in the spring which the match play could take, putting it right before or after The Players Championship. In May, most places south of Interstate 40 have weather good enough for golf, so there are more options.
Unless Wells Fargo drops out and the entire PGA Tour schedule moves forward a week, it would be practically impossible to shoehorn a tournament into the June, July or August time frame.
That leaves the previously unthinkable: moving the match play to a location like Orlando in October or November, during the front half of the PGA Tour split season instead of in February. There is already another World Golf Championship in the fall, albeit in Asia, so it could make real sense to put it in the fall and give the beginning of the next season a real attention-getting boost with two WGC events. Maybe it’s the match play a week after the Tour Championship and the WGC-HSBC before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Like the results of the Accenture Match Play, anything could happen, and we will just have to wait to see how things develop.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.