Off to Arizona for the first WGC event of the season, plus the first of 2 Match Play events this term with the Volvo World Match Play returning to the European Tour once again in May. There's always an added spice to this event in a Ryder Cup year as those hopeful of securing a place on the US or European teams look to prove their worth as well as rack up some of the serious qualification points on offer this week.
With the withdrawals of Phil Mickelson (holiday) and Paul Casey (injury) we have 2 alternates in the field in the shape of Ernie Els and George Coetzee, other than that we have a full contingent of the World's top 64 players. If any player withdraws now, they will be replaced like-for-like meaning the remaining matches will be unaffected - to get a printable copy of the brackets and matches click here: WGC Accenture Brackets
With the bookies paying 4 places each way there's only one strategy for me - to find the winner of each of the 4 brackets and back them each way. Picking any more than one player in a bracket guarantees that at least one of your bets will fail, so instead I'm looking for players with the ability to progress through the first 4 matches unscathed.
Looking through the history of this event there are some pretty solid trends to consider:
- Since 2003, all winners of this event have secured at least one professional victory in the previous 12 months.
- Since 2003, all winners achieved a top 4 finish in at least 1 of their previous 6 starts on their respective Tour.
- First timers can win (Geoff Ogilvy is a case in point in 2006), however those with a poor record in this event can be discarded - you need to have got to the 3rd round at least in the past if you've played multiple times.
- The greens are large, undulating Bentgrass and you'll need to be holing out well to stand a chance of making the final.
Bobby Jones Bracket: The weakest of the 4 groups in my opinion can be dominated by the World number 1 and defending champion at a generous 18/1. Yes, he's hardly hit the ground running in 2012 and the death of his father followed by the birth of his second child will have distracted him somewhat in recent times, however make no mistake - Donald has come to Arizona to defend his title and there's nothing much in his way from reaching at least the semis in my view. A struggling Ernie Els should prove to be no problem and the winner of Hanson/Dufner will hardly strike fear into Luke's heart. The winner of Goosen/Snedeker may present a more formidable challenge, however I'd still expect him to prevail and there's nothing in the bottom half of the Bobby Jones bracket to cause any real concern.
Donald has an outstanding record in team Match Play events and whilst before last year this event was never his most successful, I'd expect the true Match Play competitor to come out in Luke Donald this week and a semi-final berth should be the very least he can expect at Dove Mountain. RESULT: T33
Gary Player Bracket: From the weakest to arguably the strongest bracket with Rory McIlroy headlining, however his first round match against George Coetzee is far from a walkover and there's potential for an upset there. Garcia against Jimenez will be a great all-Spanish match, whilst in the bottom half of the draw we have the likes of Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel and Match Play specialist Ian Poulter all in with a strong shout of progressing past the first round or two. For me though, the player who could ultimately triumph from this bracket may well be Aussie Geoff Ogilvy who is a tasty 55/1 with BetFred at the time of writing to win the tournament outright.
Ogilvy's record in WGC Match Play is incredible with just 4 defeats in 24 matches and victories in this event in 2006 and 2009, plus a runner's up finish in 2007, adds further fuel to the fire. 3.5 points from his 5 matches in the President's Cup on what was a losing team is also a great return and worthy of note. A missed cut last week in LA can be overlooked on a course that was never going to suit, instead you only have to look at his 2nd place finish at the JBWere Masters in December for proof that his game is in decent nick. Last week's playoff loser Keegan Bradley poses a fierce test in round 1, however with the furore which has erupted over his slow play and relentless spitting since Sunday we may find Bradley somewhat distracted. The winner of Garcia/Jimenez awaits, then possibly Rory Mcilroy - nobody said it would be easy! A fascinating quarter final would Ogilvy vs Poulter, however I'd still back the Aussie to scrape through and reward us at a long price despite the fact that he doesn't have a tournament victory to his name since 2010. RESULT: T33
Ben Hogan Bracket: This is the bracket which caused me the most debate if I'm honest - there are some excellent putters in this bracket and an awful lot of tight matches that could go either way. US Ryder Cup stars Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan will no doubt grab some of the media attention, however my kneejerk reaction would have been to pick Steve Stricker if it weren't for lingering doubts about his fitness after 5 weeks off to rest his neck injury. Too much of a risk for me for Stricker to go all the way with the potential for 6 tough rounds in 5 days - he struggled towards the end of the Sony Open with his neck tightening up and this could be the same, however he could easily win his first 2 or 3 matches.
The winner of this bracket for me though is last year's beaten finalist Martin Kaymer. The uber-cool German is well suited to the course at Dove Mountain as it plays to his strengths - his love of desert golf is evident from his outstanding record on the European Tour desert swing and a return to a fast bentgrass putting surface can only be a plus following his last victory on a similar surface in the WGC event in Shanghai in the autumn. Short-game master Greg Chalmers should find the competition too hot in round 1 and an out-of-form Rickie Fowler could also struggle against the German should he beat David Toms in his opener. Matt Kuchar may await in round 3, however Kaymer should be brimming with confidence by then and there's nothing in the bottom half to stop him reaching the semis in my view. RESULT: T9
Sam Snead Bracket: The top half of this draw is going to be fascinating with top seed Lee Westwood - who has a poor record in this event having failed to get past the 2nd round in 10 attempts - up against Nicolas Colsearts in round 1 who reached the semis of last year's Volvo Match Play in Europe - a potential banana skin if I've ever seen one! Nick Watney faces 2000 champion Darren Clarke with the potential of a 2000 final rematch if Clarke & Woods both prevail...and Woods might not have it all his own way if that were to happen, particularly if he his putting from inside 5 feet hasn't improved from his Pebble Beach performance.
My selection though for this bracket is Webb Simpson who could initially sail into the final 8 without breaking much of a sweat. In his 3 team events in Match Play format both as an amateur and professional he's finished on the winning side, plus his partnership with Bubba Watson in last Autumn's President's Cup reaped 3 points from 4 matches before a tight final-hole defeat to KT Kim in the Sunday Singles having fought back from 3 down. He has the Italian prodigy Manassero in round 1 who has been struggling for form of late, then Alvaro Quiros/Martin Laird in the second round - both of whom haven't ventured past the first round in this. Last week's winner Bill Haas might be the biggest threat to him proceeding, however Haas will have to dig to keep going after Sunday's epic. A victory against the winner of the top half would then see Webb into the Semis, meaning at least and each-way payout, and every chance of progressing to the final...RESULT: T33
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 13:50GMT 21.2.12 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
To read our stats pack for the WGC Accenture Match Play click here: WGC Match Play Stats Pack
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!