Rory McIlroy was last spotted abruptly exiting his season-opener in Abu Dhabi after just 36 holes but don’t blame the missed cut on his new Nike weaponry, suggested the tennis star girlfriend of the world No. 1.
"He likes his new clubs and is very comfortable with them," Caroline Wozniacki told AFP on Monday, ahead of McIlroy’s start -- his first since bombing out of his 2013 debut -- at this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Of course, the formerly top-ranked hard-court player also noted how her curly-haired honey made golf "look easy" -- right after he had struggled mightily to find the fairway in Abu Dhabi. Certainly, if his rebound from last year’s mid-season slump taught golf watchers anything, it would be a mistake to count McIlroy out. Should he bomb out early from match play, however, he’ll face added pressure to work out the kinks with his sticks before the Masters in April.
This week at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain outside Tucson, McIlroy heads up a stout Jones Division that includes reigning Masters champ Bubba Watson, 2011 Masters titleholder Charl Schwartzel, and Tournament of Champions winner Dustin Johnson. The tourney’s top seed, the two-time major champion will face good friend and Horizon Sports Management stablemate Shane Lowry in an all-Ireland first round that also includes McIlroy’s Northern Irish countryman Graeme McDowell taking on Dubliner Padraig Harrington.
As for McIlroy’s chances of capturing his seventh PGA Tour win on Sunday, Wozniacki played it safe.
"He’s going to play a tournament this week," she said, "and hopefully he’s going to do well."
With that keen observation in mind, we’ve thrown darts at the board and come up with the following predictions for each round within the Jones Division:
1st-round winners (Jones Division):
- McIlroy def. Lowry -- No. 1 will advance beyond the first round in his fifth Match Play Championship start just as he has in each of his previous four appearances.
- Rickie Fowler def. Carl Pettersson -- It’s a toss-up; Fowler lost in the opening round last year while Pettersson hasn’t played here since 2007 when K.J. Choi beat him in the first round.
- Dustin Johnson def. Alexander Noren -- In his lone start here in 2010, Noren lost in the opening round, though DJ is only 2-4 in his previous match play starts.
- Harrington def. McDowell -- Pick ‘em; both guys missed the cut at last week’s Northern Trust Open.
- Chris Wood def. Bubba Watson -- Bubba may still be suffering lingering effects of the flu that forced him out of the Farmers Insurance Open and he missed the cut at Riviera, while Wood is riding high from his Qatar Masters victory last month.
- Ryan Moore def. Jim Furyk -- Furyk has yet to reach the quarterfinals in 13 appearances, while Moore got there last year.
- Charl Schwartzel def. Russell Henley -- Tour rookie Henley may have won the Sony Open and Schwartzel has a mediocre 5-4 record in match play, but all four losses have come down to the 18th hole.
- Jason Day def. Zach Johnson -- Johnson has won only two matches in his last six starts here and has two missed cuts in four tourneys this year, while Day finished in the top 10 in two of three tour events in 2013.
- McIlroy def. Fowler
- D. Johnson def. Harrington
- Moore def. Wood
- Schwartzel def. Day
- DJ def. McIlroy -- Rory's not that comfy with his new bats.
- Schwartzel def. Moore
Jones Bracket winner:
Final-4, overall match play:
- Bill Haas (Hogan Division)
- Tiger Woods (Player Division)
- Ian Poulter (Snead Division) -- Remember the Ryder Cup?
- Tiger Woods -- The world’s second-ranked player enters the contest after cadging a win in his first tour start of the season at the Farmers Insurance Open. While he has not made it past the second round in match play since he won it all in 2008, he has three match play titles. Plus, he’ll start the week full of confidence after, no doubt, wiping the course with President Obama in Sunday’s well-publicized tune-up.