February Madness! A Look at Some Possible Matches in The Accenture Match Play
Bracket fever! I'm in the grips of bracket fever!
A lot of people love betting on the brackets and I am one of them. I can't wait for some of the intriguing match-ups.
From what I understand, there is some other tournament that is going on in March. I remember reading about it somewhere, but I can't remember what's going on.
The "bracketology" I'm talking about is the Accenture Match Play and it starts this week.
Two of the divisions, the Jones and the Player divisions, don't seem to be too compelling. There are no matches, or even possible matches, between players who don't like each other or who have squared off before. The best we can hope for from the Jones division is that the brothers Molinari, Edoardo and Francesco, would end up playing each other for the right to play in the final four.
Of course that is not going to happen. Francesco would have to beat either Retief Goosen or K.J. Choi in the second round, and then would have to hope not to have to play world number one, Lee Westwood in the third round.
Edoardo would have to get by the likes of Luke Donald and Steve Stricker to make it to the division final. No small feat there, either.
The Player Division is no less lacking in star power. We could see a match between major winners Martin Kaymer and Zach Johnson in the second round. We could also get Ryder Cuppers Jim Furyk and Miguel Angel Jimenez playing in the same round.
But that's it.
The beauty divisions are the Hogan, with major winners Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Stewart Cink, and Y.E. Yang, and the Snead division which features Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, and Ernie Els, all multiple major winners.
Let's have a look at some of the interesting possible match ups we may see.
Ian Poulter Vs. Stewart Cink (Round 1, Snead Division)
This is an interesting match-up because it pits two very different personalities against one another.
Poulter is the flamboyant, outspoken Englishman who isn't afraid to put anyone in their place. (Those of us who follow him on Twitter can attest to that)
Cink (USA) is as quiet and reserved as the day is long.
Poulter is fiery and energetic. If Cink were any more laid back, he would slip into a coma.
Poulter wears some, shall we say, interesting clothing. Cink is the poster boy for Dockers.
On the course, they are just as different. If he had played enough to be ranked, Poulter would lead the tour in greens in regulation and birdies. Cink is not in the top 20 of any major statistical category. Poulter would be 98th on Tour in scoring. Cink is 99th.
What does this tell us? It tells us that there is more than one way to play the game.
Cink has been very quiet (as is his style) since his Open Championship win last July, and that includes his game.
Poulter has a top-10 finish in his one event on Tour this year while Cink has missed the cut once and failed to make the top-25 in the other two events he has played.
I will take Poulter to win 3 and 2.
Tiger Woods Vs. Thomas Bjorn (Round 1, Snead Division)
These two have met twice in the Ryder Cup, albeit in team format, and have split those matches.
There is no denying who is the better player in this match on paper. Unfortunately for Tiger, golf is not played on paper.
Bjorn is a stalwart on the European Tour. He is currently fourth in their Race to Dubai (The European Tour version of the FedEx Cup) and plays a very steady game.
Woods' life and his game are a mess. It seems that it is only because of his enormous talent and his truly awesome willpower that he is even competitive. Of course, he did indulge in a little "retail therapy" recently, by upgrading his house and property in Florida. If you haven't seen it, check it out online. What a place. His guest house is bigger than most people's houses and he can hit drivers from one end of his property to the other.
Bjorn recently won the Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy (no, I did not type all that. Thank you cut and paste). Woods has not won anything on Tour since two months before he plowed his car into a tree and all hell broke loose for him. That last win was nearly a year and a half ago.
Normally, I would favor the hot hand here, but it is very hard to pick against Woods in a match play event, especially a singles event.
I think this will be a hotly contested match, but I like Woods in 20 holes.
Phil Mickelson Vs. Rickie Fowler (Round 2, Hogan Division)
Mickelson used to be one of the young guns. Now, he is a grizzled veteran, a multiple major championship winner, and one of the most beloved players on Tour in this generation.
Mickelson plays the game the way most of us want to. He goes for shots that shouldn't be attempted and a lot of times, he pulls them off. When he doesn't, he has a legion of fans who are still behind him every step of the way.
Mickelson makes a lot of birdies (currently seventh on Tour with 4.69 per round), but as any of his fans can tell you, he has a knack for making bogeys, too. And, he will miss the occasional "gimme" putt.
The fun thing about Phil is that he is never out of a hole. He has absolutely every shot in the bag and the imagination to invent a shot or two, if he has to.
Rickie Fowler is still making his mark, but has come to be recognized as one of the young players to watch out for.
Fowler is steady, not making too many birdies, but not making too many mistakes either.
Fowler can fill the cup up. He is currently 10th on Tour in putts per round. And he is 14th on Tour in scoring, averaging 69.93 strokes per round.
Look for experience to take this one.
Mickelson to win 2 and 1.
Jim Furyk Vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez (Round 2, Player Division)
These two men have met in the Ryder Cup with Furyk narrowly winning 2 and 1. Between the two of them, they have nine Ryder Cup appearances.
Jimenez is known as the Mechanic, a nickname that stems from his love of driving, not repairing, high performance cars. What a great nickname, though.
Furyk is probably best known for his swing, which is something just this side of textbook. As David Feherty once said, "It's like an octopus falling out of a tree."
However, that unorthodox swing has turned Furyk into a human ATM and has won him a U.S. Open, so laugh all you want. The guy can flat out play.
Neither man is exactly lighting up their respective tours so far this year. Furyk does have a top-10 in four starts this year, while Jimenez finished second in the Volvo Golf Champions back in January.
I'm going to have to go with the higher seed in this match.
I like Furyk 1-up.
Tiger Woods Vs. Padraig Harrington (Round 2, Snead Division)
Okay, quick, who is the only man to have won more than one major championship since Tiger won his last?
The answer is Padraig Harrington. Ten majors have been played since Tiger won the 2008 U.S. Open, and there have been nine different winners in the majors in that time.
Woods is 3-2 in the Ryder Cup in team formats against Harrington, but they have never played a singles match.
Harrington seems to have lost some of his form since his stellar run in late 2008. One has to wonder if the desire to win a major tournament has been lessened now that he has won three of them.
For Woods, the desire is just as strong, but between the leg injury of 2008, the rehab of that injury, and the complete disintegration of his life before his very eyes, he hasn't had the chance to focus on golf the way he once could.
As I have noted before, it is very hard to pick against Tiger, and I think the pattern will hold true here.
I like Tiger to win 2 and 1.
Dustin Johnson Vs. Bubba Watson (Round 2, Snead Division)
Either one of these guys could have been a major champion right now.
If Johnson had bothered to read the local rules before the the start of last August's PGA Championship, he would have known that all of the bunkers on the course were considered hazards and he could not ground his club in any of them.
As it was, he grounded his club in a bunker on the 18th hole in the final round, was forced to accept a penalty, and missed out on being in a playoff with Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer.
Watson made it to the third hole of the playoff where he put his second shot, again on the 18th hole, in the water short of the green, handing Kaymer his first major championship.
Johnson hits the ball a mile, ranking second on Tour in driving distance, and he ranks first in birdies per round and par-breakers (holes under par). He has a third place finish on tour to go along with two other top-10s.
The man who is in front of Johnson in driving distance is Bubba Watson. He has won on tour this year and has another top-10 finish.
Do not expect to see many lay-ups if this match happens. Do expect to see a lot of birdies and even a few eagles.
Given his history of mental mistakes (In addition to the above mentioned gaff, he recently missed tee time at the Northern Trust Open), I can't take Johnson here.
I like Watson to win 4 and 2.
Phil Mickelson Vs. Louis Oosthrizen (Round 3, Hogan Division)
Now we are getting to matches that are more speculative. When you are in the third round, there is no guarantee the match will even happen. Anyone who studies brackets in March can attest to that.
Mickelson against Oosthuizen would be a match up of two current major championship winners.
Mickelson locked up his third Masters last April. Who can forget the incredible shot he hit on the 13th hole in the final round? Behind a tree, on pine straw, having to hit under branches and still carry Rae's Creek to reach the green, Mickelson laced a 6-iron to two putt range. He went on to win his fourth major.
Oosthuizen was the surprise winner of the Open Championship at St. Andrews last July. He fired an opening round 65 and never really looked back, eclipsing the field by seven shots.
This would be a match-up of Mickelson's go for broke style and Oosthuizen's steady game, and it will come down to whether or not Mickelson can stay out of his own way.
On the other hand, it is fun to watch Mickelson when he is behind because he is capable of hitting any shot, and I mean any shot.
I like Mickelson getting by in this match, if it should happen, 1 up.
Graeme McDowell Vs. Ian Poulter (Round 3, Hogan Division)
McDowell and Poulter, seen celebrating after Europe's win in last year's Ryder Cup, were having a great time back then, but this week they would be opponents.
McDowell is the defending U.S. Open Champion and has a third place finish in the one PGA Tour event he has played this year.
Poulter is the defending Accenture Match Play Champion and has a top-10 finish in one PGA Tour event this year.
Both men play a lot of international tournaments and are successful, very good players. Statistically, McDowell is slightly longer, a bit more accurate off the tee, and hits more greens in regulation.
For those reasons, I will take McDowell in this all European match, 2 up.
Tiger Woods Vs. Bubba Watson (Round 3, Snead Division)
In another battle of long-hitters, Watson against Woods would be a great match to watch.
As I have noted before, Watson is playing some pretty good golf so far this year, having already won a tournament.
Woods is still trying to find his form, but has shown flashes of the brilliance he once possessed.
I just don't know if Woods' game is back where it needs to be to pull a win out in this match.
It won't be easy, I'm going to take Watson, if these two should meet, 1 up.
Final Four No. 1: Lee Westwood Vs. Graeme McDowell
Lee Westwood has been a very good player for a very long time. He is the current number one player in the world and currently has the dubious distinction of being the best player never to have won a major.
He has played on seven Ryder Cup teams, having been on the winning side five times.
Graeme McDowell is the current U.S. Open Champion and was a teammate of Westwood last year as Europe won back the Cup. In fact, he won the decisive point for the Euros when his five foot putt on the 17th green was conceded.
The men are about even statistically. McDowell is more accurate, but Westwood is slightly longer.
It's hard to call a number two seed beating a number one an upset, but I will take McDowell in the upset, 2 up.
Final Four No. 2: Jim Furyk Vs. Bubba Watson
On one side we have two Euros playing each other, on the other side we have two Americans.
Watson leads the PGA Tour in driving distance and makes a lot of birdies.
Furyk is currently 66th on Tour in distance and makes a lot more pars. This is most likely why he won a U.S. Open, where par is a good score.
What does this mean? It means Watson is going to be blasting it past Furyk all day. That makes it easier to hit the green because he is hitting a shorter club.
In golf, there is no substitute for length. I think Watson will take this one, and my guess is that it will not be a very fun match for Furyk.
I will take Watson to win going away, 5 up.
The Finals: Graeme McDowell Vs. Bubba Watson
A current major champion against a guy who could have been one very easily.
An Irishman against an American.
A guy who can hit the ball forever-long against a guy who would be 100th on tour in driving distance if he had played enough times in America to be ranked.
McDowell was 2-1-1 in last year's Ryder Cup and won the decisive match.
Watson was 1-3 and got housed in the singles by Miguel Angel Jimenez, 4 and 3.
I have to think that Watson will want to avenge that poor showing in his first Ryder Cup.
He is playing well so far this year and seems ready to have a breakout year.
I like Watson to win this, but it will be a good match. I will take him to win 2 and 1.
Of course, I could be completely wrong about all these matches. Stranger things have happened.