Commentary

Match Play first-round preview

Originally Published: February 19, 2008
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Golf's version of March Madness starts on Wednesday.

The Accenture Match Play Championship features 64 of the world's top golfers, each looking to make it through six rounds and grab the trophy that Henrik Stenson claimed last year.

Previous winners in the nine-year history of the event include Geoff Ogilvy (2006), David Toms (2005), Tiger Woods (2003-04), Kevin Sutherland (2002), Steve Stricker (2001), Darren Clarke (2000) and Jeff Maggert (1999). The tournament will be competed on the 7,466-yard South Course at The Gallery Golf Club in Marana, Ariz.

Here are the breakdowns of all 32 first-round matches:

BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Tiger Woods vs.
(16) J.B. Holmes

In the NCAA hoops tourney, the No. 1 seed gets a team like Montana A&M that flirts with lead for about 10 minutes before losing by 63 points. Tiger's reward for being the top seed? One of the game's longer hitters, who is fresh off a victory at the FBR Open three weeks ago.

You heard it here first: This won't be an easy one for Woods. Had young J.B. been matched up against any other elite player, he would be a strong upset special. He will fall to Woods, but this won't be a Stephen "9 and 8" Ames type of match.

(8) Mike Weir vs.
(9) Arron Oberholser

In each of the past two PGA Tour events, Oberholser has declared himself in the field ... only to withdraw prior to the opening round. His latest injury is a shoulder problem, hot on the heels of last year's hand surgery and back issues.

"I guess I've got to get started someplace," Oberholser recently told the East Valley Tribune. "Hey, if I only get to play one round and get waxed, I get waxed." Uh, doesn't exactly sound like a guy ready to advance through a few rounds.

(5) Aaron Baddeley vs.
(12) Mark Calcavecchia

This match features one of the world's best putters (Baddeley) against a guy who calls himself among the game's worst (Calcavecchia).

Badds owns a solid record in his adopted home state of Arizona, where he triumphed at last year's FBR and won two matches at this event.

(4) Zach Johnson vs.
(13) David Toms
Talk about a turnaround. Last year, Toms was a No. 5 seed while Johnson was a 14. Twelve months later, Toms still is seeking his 13th career PGA Tour victory, while Johnson has a green jacket hanging in his closet. Don't believe the numbers. Three years ago, Toms played the best golf of his life in defeating Chris DiMarco, 6 and 5, in the final. He has more experience -- and success -- in this format, including a 22-7 career record in this event.
(6) Ian Poulter vs.
(11) Soren Hansen
Oh please, Golf Gods. We don't ask for much -- just a fortuitous bounce in the fairway or a good lie in the bunker once in a while. But if you could see fit to set up a Poulter/Woods matchup in the Jones final after the Brit's recent comments, well, we'd really appreciate that.

Yes, there is a possibility all three "Hansen/Hanson" brothers could reach Saturday's semis. Headline writers would love it. TV networks would hate it. Poulter contends he was misquoted as saying, "The trouble is, I don't rate anyone else." The fact is, he rates higher than Hansen.

(3) K.J. Choi vs.
(14) Camilo Villegas
Is there a more underrated golfer in the world than Choi? It's a label no top player really wants, but the South Korean is at least in the discussion of top players without a major victory. In his third full season on tour, Villegas still isn't very consistent but can be streaky. The Gallery's wide fairways should help him go low, so don't be surprised to see an upset.
(7) Paul Casey vs.
(10) Robert Karlsson
There should be plenty of chatter between these guys, who paired up for the European side in two Ryder Cup matches this past September. (They halved each of their matches together.) Casey is coming off a solid week at Riviera (T-22 finish) and -- unlike Karlsson -- should benefit from that extra week in the United States. He could match last year's trip to the quarterfinals.
(2) Rory Sabbatini vs.
(15) Bradley Dredge
OK, we take it back, Golf Gods. We'll sacrifice Poulter if it means Sabbatini moves on to the Jones bracket final against Woods. Seriously. Pretty please. We don't ask for much, and you've got to admit, it would be fun.

We might be looking ahead, but Rory won't be. It might be debatable whether Tiger really is "beatable," but Dredge certainly is -- by Sabbatini, at least.

BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Ernie Els vs.
(16) Jonathan Byrd
At this time last week, Els' personal Web site still had him skipping this event. And who could blame him? In six career U.S. appearances, he has been sent home Wednesday evening four times and never has made it past Round 2.

Does the fact that Els decided to play this tourney show a renewed commitment? Or will his past results prevail? Remember, this is a guy who owns seven titles at the European Match Play event, but his first U.S. start of 2008 could be a quick one.

(8) Retief Goosen vs.
(9) Andres Romero
Something is wrong with Goosen's game. He posted only one top-10 a year ago (T-2 at the Masters) and is coming off a two-day performance at Riviera in which he finished second to last. Romero hasn't exactly been tearing things up in his first season as a PGA Tour member, but with his opponent struggling, he got a lucky draw. Never thought you would hear that said about Goosen, did you?

(5) Trevor Immelman vs.
(12) Shingo Katayama
Immelman made a strong run at this event last year, beating Thomas Bjorn, Chris DiMarco, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Chad Campbell en route to a third-place finish. Coming off a serious offseason illness, Immelman missed the cut in each of his two starts so far this season. Stick with the cowboy hat in this one.
(4) Henrik Stenson vs.
(13) Robert Allenby

Stenson proved the unpredictability of this format a year ago, when the No. 3 seed romped through the field en route to his first career PGA Tour victory.

No defending champ has lost his first-round match since Steve Stricker in 2002. But Stenson could be next. Allenby always plays well early in the season, as evidenced by his four straight top-35 results.

(6) Martin Kaymer vs.
(11) Boo Weekley

Fun matchup between a pair of players who weren't even sniffing this field in previous years. Weekley won at Harbour Town last year, while Kaymer, a 23-year-old German, has made a meteroic rise lately.

The big unknown is Kaymer, who is competing in his first career U.S. tournament as a pro this week. Just don't expect him to be overwhelmed. He finished solo second -- sandwiched between Woods and Els -- in Dubai.
(3) Sergio Garcia vs.
(14) John Senden
As if we haven't asked the Golf Gods for enough already, here is one more: A Garcia/Weekley second-round match would stoke the flames of a rivalry that began at last year's PGA, when Weekley kept an incorrect scorecard for his playing partner, then Garcia signed it and was disqualified. We saw the damage Sergio can inflict in this format during the Ryder Cup. Can it carry over to this tourney? He will need to be on his game, as Senden is a GIR machine.
(7) Toru Taniguchi vs.
(10) Woody Austin
The Gallery is located in the desert north of Tucson, but we can say with a smile that, yes, there is some water on the course. Wonder if Aquaman packed his goggles this week. Is there a more unknown commodity in this field than Taniguchi? He has played one U.S. event so far this season, shooting 72-71-71-72 to finish T-46 at Riviera last week. Watch out for the Gooch.
(2) Adam Scott vs.
(15) Brendan Jones
OK, we'll answer our own question. Yes, there is a more unknown commodity than Taniguchi -- and his name is Brendan Jones, an Aussie playing in only his 12th U.S. event (most of 'em on the Nationwide Tour) since 2006. Scott is a chic pre-tourney pick to win this event. You could do a lot worse. In six appearances, he owns a 14-6 career record, only once losing in the first round (to Shaun Micheel last year).

GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Phil Mickelson vs.
(16) Pat Perez
In his first career WGC event, Perez originally thought he might be facing Woods. Nope -- turns out it's "just" Mickelson. "Yeah, that's much better," he said, "because he's playing like [dirt] right now." The "dirt" on Mickelson? Fresh off a win in L.A., he leads the FedEx Cup points list and his swing looks to be in great form. He has reached the quarterfinals only once in eight starts here. Could this be the year we finally get Phil and Tiger for 36 holes Sunday?
(8) Stuart Appleby vs.
(9) Tim Clark
The former Presidents Cup teammates should have plenty to discuss -- like, perhaps, the fact that you could land an airplane in the space between their tee shots. The numbers speak volumes. Clark has yet to make a cut in three starts this season, while Appleby has started his campaign with results of T-8, T-4 and T-7.
(5) Lee Westwood vs.
(12) Brandt Snedeker
If you haven't seen Westwood lately, we will excuse the double take. The Brit has bulked up and slimmed down, and it shows in his results, as he leads the Euro Tour's Order of Merit. Snedeker will help himself on the greens, but this is a tough draw in his first WGC event. Westwood could make a lot of noise in some big tourneys this year, starting with this one.
(4) Geoff Ogilvy vs.
(13) Justin Leonard
No one has a better record in this event over the past two years than Ogilvy (11-1), who defeated Davis Love III in the final two years ago, then lost to Henrik Stenson last year. Will Ogilvy's previous match play prowess prevail over his recent form? He missed the cut in all three starts this year, while Leonard is 5-of-5 in reaching the weekend.
(6) Niclas Fasth vs.
(11) Richard Green
Will any match receive less fanfare from The Gallery's, uh, galleries? Let's just say neither of the Euro Tour regulars will be bombarded by autograph seekers while walking down the streets of downtown Tucson. The unsuitably named Fasth, who is anything but fast on the course, is the more accomplished of the two players, but lanky lefty Green is always tough in this format.
(3) Vijay Singh vs.
(14) Peter Hanson
Let's play "Name That Hansen/Hanson Brother!" Peter is a 30-year-old Swede whose results have been pretty mediocre so far this season. A playoff loss at Pebble Beach notwithstanding, Singh doesn't look like the Vijay of old. He still is undergoing swing changes, so don't expect it to all come together this week.
(7) Scott Verplank vs.
(10) Nick O'Hern
Verplank is the American version of O'Hern. Or O'Hern is the Aussie version of Verplank. What we're trying to say is both are fairways-and-greens types who play very similar games.

Perhaps O'Hern is the only guy disappointed he didn't draw Woods in the first round. He defeated the top seed in two of the last three Match Play events.

(2) Justin Rose vs.
(15) Rod Pampling
Last year, a solid European player finally broke through for his first U.S. victory at the Match Play. Could Rose make it two in a row? Rose made his PGA Tour season debut last week, shooting 72-75 to miss the cut. He will turn that around this week.

SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Steve Stricker vs.
(16) Daniel Chopra
"I get an opportunity to play Daniel Chopra, a guy that beat me this year at the Mercedes Championship," Stricker said Monday. "So we've got a little past history, I guess, with one another, so that will be fun." The last time these guys faced each other, Chopra got the best of Stricker in the season-opening playoff at Kapalua. Expect a little payback this time around.
(8) Richard Sterne vs.
(9) Hunter Mahan
That's right, not only is Sterne, a 25-year-old South African, in the field, he is ranked higher than Mahan, who is among the top American talents. Keep a close eye on this match; you will be seeing these guys on leaderboards around the world for another two decades. Here's saying Mahan's experience prevails.

(5) Luke Donald vs.
(12) Nick Dougherty
Very intriguing matchup between the Next Nick Faldo (Donald) and the Next Next Nick Faldo (Dougherty), as each represents the future (and present) of England's golf hopes. In his PGA Tour season debut last week, Donald looked solid, posting a T-3 finish. He could be a player to watch this week.
(4) Angel Cabrera vs.
(13) Anders Hansen
Hey, we warned you there would be another Hansen/Hanson brother. Anders is a 37-year-old from Denmark, whose best result in four starts on the Euro Tour this season is a T-20. Although Cabrera lost to Campbell in the opening round last year, this course could be right up his (power) alley.
(6) Stewart Cink vs.
(11) Miguel Angel Jimenez
Cink is four weeks removed from playing in the final grouping at Torrey Pines, where he finished T-3. He has made it out of the first round four times in eight starts. Here's guessing the follically challenged Cink will find a little extra motivation when glancing over at Jimenez and his vaunted Spafro.
(3) Padraig Harrington vs.
(14) Jerry Kelly
Fun matchup between the reigning British Open champ, who has looked strong since coming to the United States two weeks ago, and Kelly, a bulldog in this format. Harrington is the better player, but Kelly wants nothing more than to earn a spot on this year's Ryder Cup team. Expect this to serve as his first big audition.
(7) Stephen Ames vs.
(10) Charles Howell III
Ames on Howell: "Anything can happen, especially where he's hitting the ball." Kidding, folks! Just kidding. He wouldn't make that mistake again. Of course, Howell's driving accuracy is below 60 percent, so maybe Ames should have saved those 2005 comments about Woods for this week's opponent.
(2) Jim Furyk vs.
(15) Colin Montgomerie
We save one of the heavyweight matches for last, as this Ryder Cup preview match should garner plenty of attention. Here's a prediction: With the wide fairways at The Gallery, neither player will be in the rough during this one. And it will come down to the final hole.

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.