The WGC-Accenture Match Play event typically becomes less appealing and interesting as the rounds progress and the field of 64 is cut in half each day. There's just less action, a slower pace, and a greater opportunity for duds and dead air.
But this year, the second round features 16 quality matches after the opening round of 64 finished with the lowest amount of upsets in the tournament's history. There were only nine upsets according to the seeding, and only a few key headliners were lost. There are some years where multiple No. 1 seeds go down right away, and we're left grasping for stories and intrigue by the weekend.
Last night, I previewed the best second round match in each of the four sub-brackets and it was tough to choose which ones to highlight. The best match, on paper, is probably in the overloaded Hogan bracket, where No. 1 seed Rory McIlroy gets No. 9 Harris English. McIlroy avoided the first round upset that's bit him before, and handled an injured Boo Weekley as he should have.
But English is an entirely different challenge, one of the top young talents in the game who could very well be on the No. 1 or No. 2 line at this event come next year. English was heralded as a top prospect, and the results are meeting the hype over the last six to eight months. He's got five top 10 finishes in his first nine events of the season, and always seems to be a factor on the first page of the leaderboard. McIlroy, English, and Patrick Reed, who is also still alive, are the only current players under 25 with multiple PGA Tour wins. It's a huge opportunity for English to again prove he's in the same class as Rory, and make another impression on Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson. This is the ninth match of the day going out at 12:56 p.m. EST.
In addition to that match, another one to watch is Jason Day vs. Billy Horschel. Day's record is rock solid at this event but Horschel has the game and temperament to excel (and piss off opponents) in match play format. Horschel blitzed first-round opponent Jamie Donaldson. Day won't be that easy, but this is a much closer matchup than the seeds let on.
With only 16 matches to get through, the Tour has a bit of scheduling flexibility from here on out. The first match, Sergio Garcia vs. Bill Haas, will tee off at 11:20 a.m. ET (9:20 local in Tucson). Jason Dufner will anchor the day's matches, and every single pairing should be out on the course for much of their match during the Golf Channel broadcast window (1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET). Unlike last year, we're not expecting major weather delays.
Here's the tee sheet for Thursday's second round:
|11:20 a.m.||Sergio Garcia||Bill Haas|
|11:32 a.m.||Rickie Fowler||Jimmy Walker|
|11:44 a.m.||Peter Hanson||Victor Dubuisson|
|11:56 a.m.||Bubba Watson||Jonas Blixt|
|12:08 p.m.||Jason Day||Billy Horschel|
|12:20 p.m.||George Coetzee||Patrick Reed|
|12:32 p.m.||Matt Kuchar||Ryan Moore|
|12:44 p.m.||Jordan Spieth||Thomas Bjorn|
|12:56 p.m.||Rory McIlroy||Harris English|
|1:08 p.m.||Charl Schwartzel||Jim Furyk|
|1:20 p.m.||Richard Sterne||Hunter Mahan|
|1:32 p.m.||Graeme McDowell||Hideki Matsuyama|
|1:44 p.m.||Henrik Stenson||Louis Oosthuizen|
|1:56 p.m.||Brandt Snedeker||Webb Simpson|
|2:08 p.m.||Justin Rose||Ernie Els|
|2:20 p.m.||Jason Dufner||Matteo Manassero|