WGC-Accenture Match Play 2014: Preview and Prediction at Dove Mountain

Mike DudurichContributor IFebruary 18, 2014

WGC-Accenture Match Play 2014: Preview and Prediction at Dove Mountain

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    Matt Kuhar was a very worthy champion in 2013.
    Matt Kuhar was a very worthy champion in 2013.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    It is an event designed to feature the best 64 players in the world, who are seeded like the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and then face off in a rare match-play tournament.

    It's a style of golf that encourages risk/reward play, and the Golf Club at Dove Mountain is a course that sets up well for that style.

    It's called the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, one of only a handful of tournaments to be given the WGC title.

    The winner earns 500 FedEx Cup points, making it a big deal.

    The format allows for unpredictability, things like the game's biggest stars being eliminated on the first day, leaving the tour's lesser lights to carry the tournament the rest of the week.

    It ought to be a entertaining week, starting Wednesday morning.

Dove Mountain

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    A tumbleweed heads toward a golf ball on a fairway at Dove Mountain.
    A tumbleweed heads toward a golf ball on a fairway at Dove Mountain.Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    The venue for the only match-play event on the regular PGA Tour schedule is the Golf Club at Dove Mountain.

    The course opened in 2008 and is a Jack Nicklaus design and features plenty of the Golden Bear's philosophies, including wide fairways and plenty of visually intimidating bunkers. It measure 7,791 yards from the tips and plays to par 72.

    It is up in the mountains and plays altitude. Winds, rain and even snow can be a factor.

    Its greens are the major defense here. The putting surfaces are fast with plenty of slopes.

    This may be the last time the tournament is held here. Accenture, the main sponsor, will no longer be the sponsor after this week.

    A new venue and time of year may well be upcoming.

The Field

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    Henrik Stenson won it all in 2013. He's the top dog this week in the Match Play.
    Henrik Stenson won it all in 2013. He's the top dog this week in the Match Play.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Because Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson are not competing, Henrik Stenson becomes the No. 1 seed in the brackets.

    Stenson tops the Bobby Jones bracket, Justin Rose the Gary Player, Rory McIlroy the Ben Hogan and Zach Johnson the Sam Snead.

    At the other end of the field, Scott Piercy, Richard Sterne and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat got into the field with the absences of Woods, Scott and Mickelson.

    Sentimental favorite this week will be Steve Stricker, who wasn't sure he'd compete because his brother, Scott, was awaiting a liver transport. That took place Friday and was successful.

Day 1 Matchups

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    Rory McIlroy tries to get his bearings in preparation for Wednesday's first round.
    Rory McIlroy tries to get his bearings in preparation for Wednesday's first round.Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

    For the golfers who keep winning, this week can be a long one with the event starting Wednesday. Here are Wednesday's first-round matchups and starting times (all times EST):

    9:25 a.m.: Ian Poulter, England, vs. Rickie Fowler, U.S.

    9:35 a.m.: Jimmy Walker, U.S., vs. Branden Grace, South Africa.

    9:45 a.m.: Bubba Watson, U.S., vs. Mikko Ilonen, Finland.

    9:55 a.m.: Keegan Bradley, U.S., vs. Jonas Blixt, Sweden.

    10:05 a.m.: Steve Stricker, U.S., vs. George Coetzee, South Africa.

    10:15 a.m.: Graham DeLaet, Canada, vs. Patrick Reed, U.S.

    10:25 a.m.: Jordan Spieth, U.S., vs. Pablo Larrazabal, Spain.

    10:35 a.m.: Thomas Bjorn, Denmark, vs. Francesco Molinari, Italy.

    10:45 a.m.: Sergio Garcia, Spain, vs. Marc Leishman, Australia.

    10:55 a.m.: Bill Haas, U.S., vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain.

    11:05 a.m.: Dustin Johnson, U.S., vs. Peter Hanson, Sweden.

    11:15 a.m.: Victor Dubuisson, France, vs. Kevin Streelman, U.S.

    11:25 a.m.: Jason Day, Australia, vs. Thorbjorn Olesen, Denmark.

    11:35 a.m.: Jamie Donaldson, Wales, vs. Billy Horschel, U.S.

    11:45 a.m.: Matt Kuchar, U.S., vs. Bernd Wiesberger, Austria.

    11:55 a.m.: Ryan Moore, U.S., vs. Joost Luiten, Netherlands.

    12:05 p.m.: Charl Schwartzel, South Africa, vs. Kevin Stadler, U.S.

    12:15 p.m.: Jim Furyk, U.S., vs. Chris Kirk, U.S.

    12:25 p.m.: Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland, vs. Gary McDowell, U.S.

    12:35 p.m.: Hideki Matsuyama, Japan, vs. Martin Kaymer, Germany.

    12:45 p.m.: Brandt Snedeker, U.S., vs. David Lynn, England.

    12:55 p.m.: Webb Simpson, U.S., vs. Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand.

    1:05 p.m.: Jason Dufner, U.S., vs. Scott Stallings, U.S.

    1:15 p.m.: Luke Donald, England, vs. Matteo Manassero, Italy.

    1:25 p.m.: Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland, vs. Boo Weekley, U.S.

    1:35 p.m.: Lee Westwood, England, vs. Harris English, U.S.

    1:45 p.m.: Zach Johnson, U.S., vs. Richard Sterne, South Africa.

    1:55 p.m.: Hunter Mahan, U.S., vs. Gonzalo Fenz-Castano, Spain.

    2:05 p.m.: Henrik Stenson, Sweden, vs. Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Thailand.

    2:15 p.m.: Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa, vs. Nick Watney, U.S.

    2:25 p.m.: Justin Rose, England, vs. Scott Piercy, U.S.

    2:35 p.m.: Ernie, Els, South Africa, vs. Stephen Gallacher, Scotland.

Previous Winners

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    Geoff Ogilvy has won the match play twice.
    Geoff Ogilvy has won the match play twice.Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    Geoff Ogilvy and Tiger Woods are the only two-time winners of the WGC-Accenture Match Play tournament. Both won at Dove Mountain and LaCosta Resort, where the tournament began.

    Here are the winners of the match play at Dove Mountain.

    • 2013: Matt Kuchar
    • 2012: Hunter Mahan
    • 2011: Luke Donald
    • 2010: Ian Poulter
    • 2009: Geoff Ogilvy
    • 2008: Tiger Woods
    • 2007: Henrik Stenson

Watching, Listening

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    Sometimes it's gets a bit chilly at Dove Mountain.
    Sometimes it's gets a bit chilly at Dove Mountain.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    If you love watching 64 of the best players in the world going to head-to-head, you're going to enjoy this week.

    The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship begins on television at noon ET through 6 p.m. on the Golf Channel. Thursday, it's 2-6 p.m. on the Golf Channel. Saturday, it's noon-2 p.m. on the Golf Channel and 2-6 p.m. on CBS. Sunday's coverage begins from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on the Golf Channel and then on CBS from 2-6 p.m.

    If you're a radio fan, you can catch the event Wednesday through Saturday from noon-6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on PGA Tour Radio on SiriusXM and PGATour.com.

Record Setters

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    Tiger Woods hammered Stephen Ames, 9 & 8, in 2006.
    Tiger Woods hammered Stephen Ames, 9 & 8, in 2006.Associated Press

    The two most interesting records set in the match-play event both occurred when the event was held at La Costa Resort and Spa. 

    And they both occurred in the same year, 2006.

    The first was the largest margin of victory. Stephen Ames made a seemingly innocent remark about believing he had a chance against Woods because of the way Woods' drives were flying wildly off the tee. The next day, Woods pummeled Ames, 9 and 8, showing Ames it's not always a good idea to poke at a sleeping bear.

    The second was for the longest match, and that mark was set twice in the first round at La Costa. Mike Weir defeated Loren Roberts and Scott Verplank edged Lee Westwood with both matching taking 26 holes to determine a winner.

Possible Storylines for the Week

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    Matt Kuchar has become a tough out in Match Play.
    Matt Kuchar has become a tough out in Match Play.Marco Garcia/Associated Press

    Matt Kuchar is a No. 2 seed this week behind U.S. Open champion Justin Rose in the Gary Player bracket.

    Kuchar has played very well in this format, having amassed a 15-3 record, giving him the highest winning percentage (83.3) of any player with at least 10 matches played. He'll be trying to become only the second back-to-back winner in the WGC Match Play's history. The other was Woods in 2003-04.

    Mahan couldn't get anything going at the Northern Trust Open last week, but he's managed to find his game a lot in this event. In his last three starts, he's 13-2.

    There will be 17 first-timers this week, including two-time winner in 2013-14 Patrick Reed and 2013 rookie sensation Spieth.

Last Year

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    Hunter Mahan has proven his prowess in the match play format.
    Hunter Mahan has proven his prowess in the match play format.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    The 2013 event came down to a pair of players who are advocates of match play and who are very good at it.

    Kuchar has a 15-3 record and, as a result of a strong performance last year, is a champion of the event. His opponent in the finals, Mahan, who won the Match Play in 2012.

    And they played like a pair of champions as Kuchar won the fourth hole with a pair and took advantage of a couple of Mahan mistakes to lead 4-up at the turn. Mahan came alive, winning the 10th and 11th, but he could never catch Kuchar.

    Kuchar made the quarterfinals and semifinals the previous two years. When he jumped out to that early lead, Mahan found himself behind in a match for more than two years.

The Weather

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    Yes, it can snow at Dove Mountain and it did last year.
    Yes, it can snow at Dove Mountain and it did last year.Associated Press

    When you think of Arizona in the winter, you think of abundant sunshine and comfortable, if not really warm weather.

    But when you get up into the mountains a bit in Arizona, all bets are off. There very well might be that Chamber of Commerce weather, but there is also the chance of the kind of weather that is not very golf-friendly.

    Last year, a blizzard blew the mountains and play was cancelled Wednesday afternoon. Two inches of the snow prevented over half the field from playing and more snow caused another delay and eventually the entire schedule was shifted.

    Snow also affected play in 2011.

    If weather forecasters are to be believed, snow won't be a factor this year.

    Afternoon temperatures are to be in the 80s, with the early groups possibly starting out in below-50s temperatures.

And the Winner Is...

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    Zach Johnson is playing well enough to win at Dove Mountain.
    Zach Johnson is playing well enough to win at Dove Mountain.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The easiest thing would be to pick Kuchar or Mahan, the PGA Tour's reigning match-play kings and winners of the past two WGC-Accenture Match Play events.

    But that would be the easy way out.

    I'm going to go with a guy who has quietly gotten his 2013-14 season to a very nice start and has posted top-10 finishes in his past four starts.

    His one and only great finish in this event came in 2006 when he finished third.

    Zach Johnson will be the man late Sunday afternoon when the last match has been won.