Rory McIlroy is back to his winning ways, Lee Westwood’s in a tizzy, and Rickie Fowler’s still trying to live up to the hype. With that, here are our prognostications for the Ben Hogan bracket, which offers quite the hodgepodge of personalities and players moving on up, taking dives, and treading water.
Working our way up from the bottom of the bracket, Branden Grace and Rickie Fowler would appear headed for early exits.
Grace (11th seed) has the bad fortune of drawing Jimmy Walker (6), the guy with the hottest sticks on the PGA Tour, in the opening match. Thanks to Walker's three victories and the top spot by a wide margin in the FedExCup race, the magic 8 ball predicts the three-time tour winner will make quick work of Grace.
Fowler, whose game remains as flat as the bill of his golf cap, comes into the tourney after three straight missed cuts. Not to pile on, but the now 56th-ranked player in the world gets the one man on tour who can make Fowler’s threads look tired and who lives for match play, Ian Poulter (3). Wait’ll next year, young Rick.
Sergio Garcia (2) seems to have put his 2013 contretemps with Tiger Woods behind him and arrives in Tucson with his first win (Qatar Masters) in more than two years instilling new confidence in the former El Nino. Tiger's BFF should prove too much for Marc Leishman (15) in the first round.
Lee Westwood (8) is in the midst of yet another career crisis as he continues to seek that evasive first major championship. With Sean Foley the latest casualty of Westwood’s whims, the former world No. 1 is likely to bow to Harris English (9), a match play rookie with five top-10 finishes in eight starts this season.
Last year’s first-round ouster may be no more than a nasty memory for top-seeded McIlroy, who ended his winless drought in Australia and for whom Boo Weekley (16) should prove but a stepping stone into day two. European Ryder Cup teammate Poulter, however, has the goods to leave McIlroy in his dust in the divisional playoffs.
1st-round winners (Hogan Division):
- McIlroy def. Weekley -- If our soothsaying is as spot on as it was in last year’s edition, look for Weekley to pull a major upset here.
- English def. Westwood
- Kevin Stadler def. Charl Schwartzel -- The Smallrus is still on a high after winning not only his first tour victory at the Phoenix Open but earning a spot in the Masters, which will make him and major champion Craig "The Walrus" Stadler the first father-son duo to start at Augusta.
- Chris Kirk def. Jim Furyk -- Match play’s just not Furyk’s forte and Kirk -- despite a T61 at Pebble and a 76 at the Phoenix -- won the McGladrey Classic and was runner-up at the Sony. So, he’s got that going for him.
- Garcia def. Leishman
- Miguel A. Jimenez def. Bill Haas -- Wily old vet’s too much for the younger guy? Sure, why not?
- Poulter def. Fowler
- Walker def. Grace
- English def. McIlroy
- Stadler def. Kirk
- Garcia def. Jimenez
- Poulter def. Walker
- English def. Stadler
- Poulter def. Garcia
Hogan Bracket winner:
Final-4, overall match play:
- Henrik Stenson
- Matt Kuchar
- Zach Johnson
Overall winner: Matt Kuchar, beware the Kay Curse. The same prognosticator extraordinaire who was admittedly not alone in forecasting Tiger Woods as the 2013 Match Play king anoints Tiger’s high-fiving Presidents Cup pal and defending Accenture champ the last man standing on Sunday at Dove Mountain.