By Michael Williams
Special to GolfWRX
The 2012 WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship gets underway today at the Ritz-Carlton Club in Marana, Ariz. and this year is sure to provide all the drama and unpredictability that is a part of single elimination match play. Three-time winner Tiger Woods joins a powerhouse field that includes World No. 1 Luke Donald, all four current major championship winners and slew of young guns and accomplished veterans all vying for $1.4 million and 550 FedEx points. Notably absent from the tournament is Phil Mickelson, who lost in a playoff last week at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open. Mickelson, who would have been the first golfer to win in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour since Woods in 2009, withdrew from the field due to a previously scheduled family commitment.
Opening round play includes some exciting matchups including Donald versus No. 16 Ernie Els, No. 3 Dustin Johnson against No. 14 Jim Furyk in the Snead bracket, while No. 8 David Toms meets No. 9 Rickie Fowler, and No. 3 Graeme McDonald takes on No. 14 Y.E. Yang in the Hogan bracket.
At a whopping 7,849 yards, the Jack Nicklaus-designed desert track will have the distinction of being the longest layout in Tour history. With generous fairways and a number of forced carries, the course would seem to favor the longer hitters in the field. But a hot putter is more important than ever in this format, and the field contains some of the most clutch putters in the game. Whether by land or by air, every participant knows that in match play there is only one objective; get to the next round.
“It’s a sprint, not a boat race,” noted Woods regarding the match play format. “Generally if you get down early, two or three down, you rarely come back. It’s hard to make up ground when you’re only playing 18 holes. It puts such a premium on getting off to a good start, and the guys that do generally win the matches.”
Woods, the only No. 1 seed ever to win the event, is seeded at No. 5 and is matched against No. 12 Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in the Snead bracket. Fernandez-Castano raised eyebrows earlier in the week by commenting that Woods was “beatable.” In response, Woods quipped, “I feel exactly the same way he does. I think he’s beatable, too.” Woods inflicted the worst defeat in tournament history on Stephen Ames in 2006, a punishing 9 and 8 opening round drubbing that came on the heels of Ames making similar comments about Woods’ vulnerability. Woods lost in the third round that year to Chad Campbell.
Defending Champion Luke Donald is looking to join Woods and Geoff Ogilvy, who has won the event twice, as the only multiple winners of the event. Last year’s Accenture Match Play win was a kick start to a campaign that saw Donald become the world’s top ranked player, in addition to being the first player to win the money title on the PGA Tour and European Tour simultaneously.
In his pre-tournament press conference, Donald commented, “[I have] a lot of great memories here last year, a lot of great things happened to me after I won here. I gained a lot of confidence from my win and how I went about winning it. And I’m excited to be back. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of match play, and hopefully I can have another good week.”
The fact that 2012 is a Ryder Cup year will give some extra incentive to players who are assured of a roster spot to establish their match play reputations. It will also be a chance for those who have not fared well in stroke play events to impress the coaches who must make wild card selections for their respective teams. Significantly, all four No. 1 seeds (Donald, defending U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy, and former world No. 1’s Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood) are likely members of the European team that the U.S. will face later this year. 2012 marks the first time in event history that there will not be an American among the No. 1 seeds.
The first of four World Golf Championship events on the golf calendar, the Accenture event is the only one that has a match play format. This year also marks the second in which the final match is 18 holes. The final match was conducted over 36 holes from 1999 through 2010.
The first three days of the tournament on will be televised on the Golf Channel, with NBC picking up the coverage on Saturday and Sunday. Check local listings for air times.
Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.
You can follow Michael on twitter — @Michaelontv