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Wild West Shootout – 2013 Accenture Match-Play Championship

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Hunter Mahan will defend his title this week at the Accenture Match Play, the first of the four annual World Golf Championships to be staged once again in Marana, Ariz., at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain.

This will be the 15th playing of the WGC event and the fifth at this venue in the hills north of Tucson. While the course can be stretched to over 7,800 yards, the elevation of the property and changing tee positions will make the yardage play shorter. The layout offers interesting options and lines for the bombers and the undulating greens and surrounding mountains offer an advantage for the short game gurus. The course proves to be a fantastic match-play venue as 73 percent of last year’s matches were decided on the final three holes.

Contrary to popular belief, even though this even is taking place in southern Arizona, weather may be a factor. Mother Nature normally has quite an effect on the outcome of the matches. Ian Poulter weathered the cold, rain and wind in 2010, while Luke Donald bested Martin Kaymer and a light blanket of snow in 2011. This week’s forecast of a cold front stampeding through the high Sonoran Desert Tuesday night into Wednesday morning should make the first couple rounds of this edition of the Accenture Match Play quite intriguing.

In this field, these brackets, this tournament, is challenging. In this tournament, a No. 1 seed is no free pass into the round of 32. In this tournament, weather is a factor. And in this tournament, mental and physical toughness will be tested over the span of five consecutive days.

As beguiling as the weather will be for some players this week, the format itself will pose a challenge to some, as well. The two players that reach the finals will have played upwards of 100 holes of golf in the span of five days — including 36 on Sunday. The elevation of the course combined with the number of holes to be played will test the physical endurance of even the fittest players in the field. Aside from the physical nature of this unique event, the mental fortitude needed to be successful this week is paramount. The mental grind that comes with this format will test the players that advance through the rounds. For most of these players, this is the only match-play format they will play all year — a format that requires a totally different mind-set from a normal tournament and exposes those that lack the mental toughness to weather an opponent holing out from a bunker or draining a long par putt. Any player that arrives in Tucson this week in a less-than-optimal physical or mental state will be tested. Those that are in a positive state of mind and body will surely have an edge as the week wears on.

The strength of golf worldwide has greatly increased, and so too has the number of participants in this tournament that represent countries other than the United States. Not only have the foreign players been qualifying for the matches, but they’ve been very successful. In the last three tournaments, only one-third of the final eight players have hailed from the U.S. The four top seeds this year represent four different flags — Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, England’s Luke Donald, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods.

Although Woods has walked away with the title in this event three times (2003, 2004, 2008), Americans have only won two of the previous seven trophies. There is, however, a new contingent of fearless, talented young players representing the red, white and blue. Their games are as brash and intriguing as their names — Rickie, Keegan, Dustin, Bubba and Hunter. These fresh American faces will battle each other as well as the stalwarts coming from all around the globe. The cold-blooded Ian Poulter and fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and cool-hand Luke Donald are always fierce match-play competitors. McIlroy looks to improve on his runner-up finish here last year and disappointing 2013 debut in the Middle East.

Even some of the more unheralded players in the field have tremendous resumes. Nicolas Colsaerts brings Ryder Cup experience with him from Belgium while South African Branden Grace brings multiple European Tour wins in 2012 alone. Every player in this field has earned his spot and is capable of beating anyone else. The seeding of these players can be very deceiving. In the last three years’ worth of matches, eight No. 14 players have won first-round matches and two more took their games to 20 holes. Six 15-seeds have upset their first-round opponents and two more took their matches to 19 holes. Four players seeded No. 1 have been beaten by their No. 16 seeded counterparts — including Woods in 2011. This field of 64 presents no respite for any player, no matter what the seeds may indicate.

The talent of the players in this field makes this an extremely difficult tournament to predict. But with the great talent will come great excitement and surely produce high drama in the high desert.

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Joe Romaine is a high school math teacher and golf coach in sunny Arizona. His days are spent thinking about golf, watching golf, and relating golf to his students' math curriculum.

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

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Podcasts

Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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