At the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play, there is no bracket that can touch the Hogan bracket for top-to-bottom strength, but the Gary Player bracket comes closest. Justin Rose, defending U.S. Open champion, sits on the top line. But Rose was a question mark for this event, with some speculation early in the year that he would join some of the others in the top 10 in passing on a lucrative WGC event at the not-so-revered Dove Mountain.
Rose made his season debut last week at Riviera, and we learned he's been dealing with an injured shoulder, which he hurt throwing a golf ball. So even though Rose is here and at the No. 1 seed, there's still a bit of uncertainty about where his game is at. The No. 2 seed is defending champ Matt Kuchar, who is also hard to project because he's barely played since early January and the season start in Hawaii. Those two having long layoffs combined with a pretty strong middle of this bracket -- Spieth, Dufner, Donald, Moore -- make the Player quadrant a wide-open competitive group. That still didn't stop me from getting chalky.
Best 1st Round Match
No. 4 Jason Dufner vs. No. 13 Scott Stallings -- 11:05 a.m. ET
To hammer home that this is indeed a World Golf Championship, the Dufner-Stallings match is just one of two first round matches between countrymen. The bracket has international balance throughout, but Dufner drew recent Farmers Insurance Open winner Stallings, who rocketed up the rankings with his win at Torrey Pines last month.
Dufner has played sparingly since the calendar flipped to 2014. After playing the opening two weeks over in Hawaii, he made his return to the Tour at Riviera this past week and finished near the bottom of the weekend leaderboard. It's hard to know what to expect from Dufner at this point and there's no real read on his form at the moment. He's been solid over the past two years in match play at both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, but a lot of that was with partner Zach Johnson.
Despite the seeding difference, both players have three PGA Tour career wins. Stallings fluctuates dramatically and then all of a sudden pops up to contend, so if both guys have it going (or don't), this should be the most competitive and interesting first round match.
In a field that's made up of only the top players in the world, we're defining this as a No. 9 seed or higher and I'll go no lower than the nine line in the Player bracket. Stephen Gallacher is a lesser-known player even among the already obscure Euro Tour names, but he just won in Dubai after playing with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy through the first two days. It was the second straight year the Scot won that flagship Middle East event, and he's making a push to get on the Euro Ryder Cup team. He obviously has no problems playing with the biggest superstars in the world, and he'll get Ernie Els right off the bat in Tucson. Some WGC money and points, as well demonstrated match play success, would go a long way towards that Ryder Cup berth.
Ryan Moore is known for his streaky play, and match play demands those birdie runs. Moore looked good earlier this month in Arizona, playing in the final group on Sunday at the Phoenix Open. We're defining "darkhorse" as a five seed or higher, and Moore has the talent and track record to make it to the weekend. His biggest obstacle might come early, however, as he'll likely run up against defending champion Matt Kuchar in the second round if he can get past Joost Luiten on Wednesday. Luke Donald is another good option for this category, but we know Moore is playing well and can stack up birdies to frustrate a match play opponent.
1st Round Player Bracket Predictions
Rose def. Piercy
Gallacher def. Els
Dufner def. Stallings
Manassero def. Donald
Kuchar def. Wiesberger
Moore def. Luiten
Spieth def. Larrazabal
Molinari def. Bjorn
2nd Round Player Bracket Predictions
Rose def. Gallacher
Dufner def. Manassero
Kuchar def. Moore
Molinari def. Spieth
3rd Round Player Bracket Predictions
Rose def. Dufner
Kuchar def. Molinari
Player Bracket Winner
Kuchar def. Rose
An embarrassing set of chalky picks for this one but I'm not going against the defending champ, even thought he hasn't played much in the last month.