Match Play third-round preview

Updated: February 23, 2007, 1:25 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

MARANA, Ariz. -- The Sweet 16 will dwindle to an Elite Eight on Friday, as Tiger Woods is the lone top seed remaining at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Who will reach the weekend? Let's break down all eight matches:

BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Tiger Woods vs.
(4) Nick O'Hern
With such large field sizes and volatility in the World Ranking, we don't see many rematches in this event. But that's just what this is -- and it's a good one. Two years ago, O'Hern played his usual brand of steady, straightforward golf, holing a bunch of putts to beat Woods, 3 and 1, in the second round of this very tournament. But that was at tight, soggy La Costa; it'll be a whole different ball game here at The Gallery, where gripping and ripping is the name of the game. Think Tiger doesn't have a long memory? On Tuesday, he discussed his first-ever match play defeat with intense description, still stewing over the loss. That was some 18 years ago. Certainly the recollection of his match with O'Hern is fresh in his mind and is one he'd like to replace with a more pleasant memory. "He obviously will take positive vibes from what he did the last time we played," Tiger said on Thursday. Here's guessing Woods' aversion to negative vibes will drive him to a third straight easy win.
(3) Henrik Stenson vs.
(10) Aaron Baddeley
This sound like a guy burning for another win on Friday? "This is my second year out in this tournament. I lost in the second round last year. I've gone past that this year, so it feels good to just go out there and give it a rip tomorrow again." Those were the words of Stenson after defeating K.J. Choi, 2 up, in the second round. Sure seems like he has a just-happy-to-be-here quality to him, doesn't it? As long as he keeps winning, we'll keep reminding: Baddeley remains undefeated this year in his adopted home state of Arizona. After winning the FBR Open in Phoenix two weeks ago, the Scottsdale resident is proving his love of desert golf with wins over higher-ranked Shingo Katayama and Luke Donald in the first two rounds. Gotta love the way he beat the latter on Friday. Two-down heading to 14, Baddeley won three of the final five holes to take the match, 1 up. Expect the momentum to carry over into Friday.

BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(9) Justin Rose vs.
(12) Charles Howell III
No, we didn't get the Howell/Phil Mickelson Nissan Open rematch that would have been so much fun, as Rose knocked off the top-seeded lefty in the second round, but with this pairing, we have two players who can commiserate over their share of heartache this season. Rose was leading for much of last month's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic before finishing in third place, while Howell pulled runner-up results at the Sony Open and Buick Invitational before breaking through for his second career win last week at Riviera. Combined they have made the cut in 9-of-9 events this year, with four top-three finishes. "I think Charles [is] possibly the best player in the world right now other than Tiger, let's say, and it's going to be a tough game," Rose said on Thursday. "He's obviously playing well -- very, very well -- striking the ball well. He's been in contention a lot, and it looks like he's putting well to me. It's going to be a tough game." Flattery will get you nowhere in match play, Justin, and his insistence that Howell is playing so well should only add to the self-imposed pressure of the moment. He was right about what he said, though: Howell is playing as well as anyone right now, and should continue onto the weekend.
(3) Trevor Immelman vs.
(7) Ian Poulter
Signs of slippage for Poulter: He only hit 12 of 17 greens in regulation in his match against Bradley Dredge on Thursday -- a fine number for any other event, but below standard at a course with greens as wide and deep as the desert itself. Meanwhile, Immelman is not only ball-striking well, he's hitting it a ton, averaging over 310 yards per drive during each of the first two days. Asked what he thought about playing Poulter, Immelman first said of his Lake Nona neighbor, "It doesn't matter what I think, really." Now that's the attitude we like to see. Immelman admitted later that "he's kind of similar mentality to [second-round opponent] Chris DiMarco; he's a real tough, fiery competitor," but the South African's steady game and stoic nature should help him ride the waves of this one, which could go the distance.

GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(9) Chad Campbell vs.
(5) David Toms
Sheesh, can Campbell ever catch a break? Last year, he had to face Tiger in the third round and beat him, only to fall at the hands of Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman in the quarterfinals. On Thursday, he knocked off top-seeded Jim Furyk and gets rewarded with ... a match against Toms? Ouch. The champion of this event two years ago, Toms has long been one of the better match play performers around, always a tough out in this event. Could Campbell be this year's Ogilvy, a guy who grabs victory from the jaws of defeat in every match along the way to a title? So far, he's been 2-down in each of his first two matches and rallied for victory both times, needing 18 holes against Angel Cabrera in the first round and 19 against Furyk. One major advantage? Toms has yet to see either of the course's last two holes in competition, which sets up very well for Campbell should this match go the distance.
(6) Stewart Cink vs.
(10) Stephen Ames
We've got our fingers crossed and you should too, really. There may be bigger names, but there could be no bigger story in Sunday's final -- and no better matchup from a TV network's perspective -- than a Woods/Ames 36-hole match to conclude this event. You'll recall, of course, the incendiary remarks that Ames made about Tiger's driving accuracy prior to their first-round meeting last year, and the ensuing 9 and 8 thumping. To get there, though, Ames will have his work cut out for him against Cink on Friday. Cink has made it past the third round in only one of seven previous efforts at this event -- finishing T-5 two years ago -- but he still owns more match play experience than Ames and should put that to good use. Even Ames noted that after his 19-hole win over Vijay Singh on Thursday. "I'm [always] gone by Wednesday night," he said. "Hell, when I passed the 12th hole, I had to take a breather. I've never played so many holes." Fun guy. We're rooting for him -- remember, a rematch with Woods would be a great story -- but give Cink the edge in this one.

SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(16) Shaun Micheel vs.
(4) Paul Casey
This is not the NCAA basketball tournament, folks, and Micheel is not Albany or Oral Roberts. A 16 seed advancing to the Sweet 16 in March Madness would be a minor miracle, but you could make the case that Micheel, a former PGA Championship winner, was actually the favorite in his second-round match over Rod Pampling, which he won, 1 up. These guys should be familiar with each other's games, as they met in the final of the 16-man HSBC World Match Play at Wentworth last year. In that one, Casey won the last five holes for a dominating 10 and 8 victory and a $1 million prize. Perhaps it's a home-country advantage thing -- Casey wins in England; Micheel could win in the U.S. -- but here's saying Casey has his number and makes it two in a row over Micheel.
(3) Geoff Ogilvy vs.
(10) Niclas Fasth
After the first round, the Wednesday night edition of SportsCenter provided the information that Woods owns the best overall winning percentage in this event. But you had to read the small print, which stated that only players with at least 10 matches of experience were included in the tally. Ogilvy, meanwhile, remains undefeated in this tournament, going 6-0 on his way to last year's title and improving to 2-0 this time around with a 2 and 1 win over the gutsy Jose Maria Olazabal on Thursday. You don't see too much emotion at this event -- it's not the Ryder Cup; players don't celebrate much for fear of alienating their opponent -- but Fasth offered a major fist pump upon holing his final putt to beat Retief Goosen in the second round. "If they come much tougher than Goosen, I'm going home," he said of his upcoming opponents. Well, we say unless they come tougher than Fasth, then they're the ones who are going home. On Thursday, the Swede had two eagles; the rest of the field -- all 31 other players -- accounted for the same exact number. Tough to beat eagles in match play. Fasth pulls off the upset.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE

MORE GOLF HEADLINES

MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM