The WGC-Accenture Match Play can be one of the cooler events of the year on the PGA Tour -- a 64-man single elimination bracket, with the top players in the world golfing in what, for many, will be their only official event of the year not competing in stroke play format. We're still a few weeks away from Championship Week, so golf's attempt at a bit of bracket madness will have to serve as an appetizer.
The rules are pretty well-known by now: the top 64 players in the Official World Golf Rankings get in, and four sub-brackets with 16 seeds each are drawn up based on those world rankings. It mirrors March Madness in terms of format, except the semis and finals are all played on Sunday, a 36-hole march through the final four. It all starts with the first round of 32 matches that tee off Wednesday, a day earlier than normal for a PGA Tour event.
Given the format, and the fact that it's a lucrative WGC event (carrying a $9M purse, more than 3 majors), this should be one of the highlights of the season. But the spot on the schedule and the venue have taken some of the momentum out of this tourney. The Golf Club at Dove Mountain is a newer Jack Nicklaus design that is annually pummeled by the players in their rankings of the courses they play each year. Most are not fond of the setup or the conditions, and that includes the most important players, such as Tiger Woods.
This year's event really lost some steam when Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Adam Scott all said they were passing -- those are three No. 1 seeds, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th ranked players in the world all bailing. Tiger had planned to be in Sochi to watch girlfriend Lindsey Vonn ski, but even when she had to pull out due to injury, he kept the week open for some rest, awaiting the Tour's swing back east to Florida. Phil has consistently stayed away, opting to play a heavy schedule during the west coast swing before this WGC event. And Adam Scott had a jammed slate through the end of 2013. When most players were taking it easy or playing silly season events, Scott was trotting all over the globe playing in the Grand Slam, World Cup, and three straight weeks in the Aussie triple crown. The two-week start to the year in Hawaii was actually the end for him, as he packed it up for six weeks to throttle down before a defense at Augusta.
So that's three superstars and No. 1 seeds gone this year, but with rumors of a move to Harding Park in San Francisco (a successful host of match play in the 2009 Presidents Cup), perhaps this cash cow an big points event will get a boost next year. Even without those three, the tourney still has appeal due to the unique setup. All the other players in the top 64 committed to play, so there's obviously some heavy hitters (Here's a full field list by country).
Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, and Zach Johnson are the beneficiaries of the three superstar absences, joining Henrik Stenson as No. 1 seeds. While anyone can win in the NCAA Tournament and we always hear about how this is the age of parity, the WGC-Match Play is truly a crapshoot. These guys are all world class players, and the seedings don't mean much. We've seen No. 16 seeds repeatedly knock off No. 1 seeds in recent years, including Tiger and Rory. It's impossible to predict, but that doesn't mean we won't try! We'll have previews for each of the four sub-brackets and picks for every single match later in the week, but here's your quick snapshot of the four brackets:
Bobby Jones Bracket
Stenson, the overall No. 1 seed with no Tiger or Adam, was the hottest player in the world at the end of 2013, winning the playoffs on both the PGA and European tours. It was an astounding feat, but he has struggled in his Middle East Euro Tour appearances this season. Every bracket has talent top to bottom, but this one appears to have less depth compared to the other three. We'll have a full preview of the Jones quadrant on Tuesday, but Stenson has a good shot to get to Sunday.
Ben Hogan Bracket
This bracket is absolutely loaded. It's the deepest 1 through 16 that I can recall for this event, and looks disproportionately so compared to the aforementioned Jones group. There are multiple major winners, former No. 1s in the world, and match play aces. It's silly to try and speak with any kind of authority on what will happen here. Ian Poulter is one of the best match play golfers ever, so maybe he's a good bet coming out of the three line? That Westwood and English are the 8-9 seeds speaks to how competitive this group is on paper.
Gary Player Bracket
This looks like the second toughest group, behind the Hogan bracket. There's plenty of meat here in the middle, with players like Dufner and Donald at the four and five seeds. Jordan Spieth, who didn't even have a PGA Tour card, let alone any chance of playing in an exclusive WGC event this time last year, is now a No. 3 seed. It's an amazing burst at the start of a career for a 20-year old many are already hailing as the next great American golfer.
Sam Snead Bracket
The brothers Johnson, Zach and Dustin, anchor the Snead bracket. Bubba Watson, who ended his winless streak by taking the Northern Trust Open on Sunday night, jumped 14 spots up the world rankings and into a No. 3 seed. Bubba's in form on this west coast swing, and the match play format can sometimes let a player with his creativity make crazy risk/reward shots and move onto the next hole with minimal damage if they blow up. A lost ball in the woods or a big crooked number doesn't drop you down the leaderboard, but just gives one hole away to your opponent. Hunter Mahan has made it to finals at this event the past two years and is lurking there on the eight line.
So there's your field and seeding setup for the week in Tucson. Previews of each bracket and predictions for every match to come later.