Commentary

Match Play second-round preview

Originally Published: February 20, 2008
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Ernie Els? See ya.

Jim Furyk? Buh-bye.

Justin Rose? Geoff Ogilvy? Rory Sabbatini? Zach Johnson? So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen. Adieu.

Tiger Woods? Uh, not so much.

On a day when 13 of the higher seeds lost their opening-round matches at the Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods proved exactly why he's the world's top-ranked player, coming from behind to defeat J.B. Holmes with a furious birdie (and eagle) barrage on the back nine.

Just for that, Woods' reward is ... a second-round match with Arron Oberholser on Thursday. Such is the case at this tourney, where there is no rest for the weary.

Let's break down all 16 second-round matches:

BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Tiger Woods vs.
(9) Arron Oberholser
There's some history here. Sure, they've never been paired together on the PGA Tour, but at the 1996 U.S. Collegiate, Oberholser (then at San Jose State) trounced Stanford's Woods by 6 strokes. (The Golf Channel video of Oberholser holing out, then picking up his own bag and carrying it to the green is priceless.) Let's be realistic. Coming off a shoulder injury, Oberholser is making his first start of the season this week and even surprised himself a little by knocking off Mike Weir on Wednesday. That said, Woods will need to play better on the front nine this time around. He won't be able to rely on similar back-nine rallies each day.
(5) Aaron Baddeley vs.
(13) David Toms
Here's Toms on Baddeley: "Great young player, real nice guy. It'll be tough, but it's like that every match. You've got to play well no matter who you play." Oooh, fighting words. OK, maybe not, but don't misjudge Toms' lack of trash talk for a lack of desire. He's one of the best around in this format. Both players are solid ball-strikers. Toms is much straighter off the tee, but Badds can drain more putts. If the Aussie can keep out of the cacti that lines each fairway, he may be able to take down the 2005 champ.
(3) K.J. Choi vs.
(6) Ian Poulter
When Choi is on his game, he's among the world's best players. And if Wednesday's opening round was any indication, he's on his game right now. Choi made five birdies in his win over Camilo Villegas, never trailing in the match. Based on Poulter's recent comments, it's fair to say he thinks a bit more about his game most others do. If he really wants to make a statement, a victory over Choi would be a good step. Expect a very close match that goes down to the final hole.
(7) Paul Casey vs.
(15) Bradley Dredge
Ah, a classic battle of England vs. Wales, as these pair of Europeans will square off in Round 2. Casey is considered a career underachiever, with only three top-10s in 20 career majors, while Dredge may be among the most unknown players in the field. Watch out for Casey. He's a dual member of the PGA and Euro tours, just like defending champ Henrik Stenson was last year. He's still seeking his first U.S. win, just like Stenson was. And if he can keep the ball in play, his length off the tee is a major advantage, just like -- you got it -- Stenson.

BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(9) Andres Romero vs.
(16) Jonathan Byrd
No offense to Byrd, but when Els makes four bogeys on the front side, it doesn't exactly take a great performance to knock him out of the brackets. Then again, same goes for Romero, who squeezed past a struggling Retief Goosen on Wednesday. Byrd was the better player in the opening round, making six birdies in 13 holes. "I did a good job of staying aggressive and really trusting my swing," he said. "I just kind of kept hitting good shots." He'll need to continue that against Romero, who can get hot in a hurry. (See: 2007 British Open, final round.)
(4) Henrik Stenson vs.
(5) Trevor Immelman
The defending champ, Stenson did everything he could to give away his first-round match against Robert Allenby. He flubbed a chip on 15, took an unplayable lie after an errant tee shot on 16 and hit the worst duck-hook we've ever seen on 18. Only his miraculous par on the final hole salvaged the win. The poor performance now behind him, can Stenson right the ship on Thursday? Or will he continue the downward spiral? Expect Immelman to want some revenge for last year's 3 and 2 loss in the semifinals. If Stenson plays like he did over the last few holes, the South African just may get it.
(3) Sergio Garcia vs.
(11) Boo Weekley
Do players keep their opponents scorecards in match play? And if so, will Boo fix any boo-boos in his math? This match features two players at the forefront of one of golf's biggest controversies of 2007, when Weekley kept an incorrect card for Garcia in the first round of the PGA Championship, then the latter signed it and was DQ'd. Surely, Sergio will want to exact a little revenge on Weekley for last year's flub, but that's easier said than done -- especially for a guy carrying two putters. That's right, Garcia is employing multiple flatsticks this weeks. Both of 'em in the bag. As for the strategy, he said, "I just tried to hit it with the putter and in the hole." Gee, thanks.
(2) Adam Scott vs.
(10) Woody Austin
Don't be fooled by Scott's T-14 finish at Riviera last week; he was on the "wrong" side of the draw, making the cut despite playing in the gustier winds over the first 36 holes. With a tweak to his swing from Butch Harmon on Tuesday, he's now firing on all cylinders. Scott may have his hands full with Aquaman. Not a guy who usually offers much self-praise, Austin said after beating Toru Taniguchi, "It was pretty much a dream match-up for me as far as the way I played. I just got off to the best start I could possibly get off to. ... I did what I was supposed to in match play, I never gave him a hole." A hot start will be important against Scott, too.

GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Phil Mickelson vs.
(8) Stuart Appleby
Lost amidst all the hubbub surrounding Woods' opening-round victory was the fact that Mickelson had a down-to-the-wire finish of his own, needing all 18 holes to erase Pat Perez from the tournament. Lefty's long birdie putt on 16 was just about as good as any Tiger made down the stretch. The two hottest players on the PGA Tour so far this season? If Mickelson and Appleby aren't the answers, they're at least both part of the discussion. The Aussie already owns a T-7, T-4 and T-8 in three starts this year. The only player to compete in every single WGC event over the past 10 years, he's gotta win one of 'em someday. Uh, right?
(5) Lee Westwood vs.
(13) Justin Leonard
In the opening round, Leonard beat Geoff Ogilvy, known as a solid match play performer considering his record (11-1) in this event the past two years. Of course, Leonard proved on Wednesday that he's no slouch, either. This is a guy who once upon a time won a pretty important singles match in the Ryder Cup. "I keep the ball in play," he said. "I don't make a lot of mistakes." This isn't just a potential Ryder Cup preview match; this pairing could feature a pair of players ready to contend at majors in 2008. Don't believe it? Check the numbers. Leonard is 5-for-5 making cuts so far and Westwood leads the European Tour's Order of Merit.
(3) Vijay Singh vs.
(6) Niclas Fasth
Here's Fasth on this week's format: "I love it. I don't even know what's the key to playing match play, but liking it is a good start, isn't it? And I do like the competition, yes." Sounds like he's got the right attitude, at least. In 14 par-4 and par-3 holes in his opening round match against Peter Hanson, Singh made one birdie and 13 pars. In five par-5 holes (they played No. 1 as the first extra hole, too), Singh made four birdies and one par. If Fasth can neutralize his opponent on the par-5s, he'll be in good shape.
(10) Nick O'Hern vs.
(15) Rod Pampling
OK, first one to hit the ball 250 off the tee wins! (That line is reprinted with permission from our podcast partner John Anderson, who says some funny stuff sometimes.) Seriously, though, this match features a pair of Aussies pea-shooters who bunt the ball down the fairway and rely on their short games to score well. Is O'Hern the only guy in the world disappointed that he's facing Pampling instead of Woods? Perhaps. In honor of his third-round victory over Tiger last year, O'Hern has grown a fuzzy red beard to commemorate the occasion. Pampling only has a goatee. Advantage: O'Hern.

SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Steve Stricker vs.
(9) Hunter Mahan
Maybe it's just us, but we'd be deathly scared to face Mahan in a one-and-done match. The guy hits the ball a long way, is pretty straight off the tee, has a solid iron game and is known to make some clutch putts. That's an awfully tough combination. Seems as if Stricker feels the same way. "Hunter is going to be especially tough," he said. "He's a good young player. He drives it good. He hits it long. This course is kind of made for long hitters, so I'm going to have to do some other things to kind of offset his length, I think, and chip and putt well and keep it in play and make him make birdies to beat me." Stricker is among the world's best putters, so he'll need to make more than a few to triumph here.
(4) Angel Cabrera vs.
(5) Luke Donald
Cabrera's got the perfect mentality for this format. Nothing seems to rattle him, he doesn't overthink on-course strategy and he seems like he's been playing with house money ever since winning last year's U.S. Open. He's just got to make sure he doesn't start a brushfire by putting out a cig in the desert. Coming off a T-3 at Riviera last week, Donald remained hot in the opening round, playing his final 10 holes in 6-under-par against Nick Dougherty in the opening round. He'll be hitting his approach shots first on just about every hole, so Donald will need to put a little pressure on Cabrera by hitting some tight iron shots.
(3) Padraig Harrington vs.
(6) Stewart Cink
Fresh off a pair of potential Ryder Cup matches, these two players are rewarded with ... another potential Ryder Cup match. Not that either guy needs to put together much of a résumé reel for his respective captain, but it always feels good to get into the head of a possible opponent at Valhalla come September. Though his first-round opponent Jerry Kelly didn't have his A-game, Harrington may have cruised against most players on Wednesday, carding seven birdies in 15 holes. The scary part? "I don't believe I am quite at the top of my game," he said afterward. "I'm not feeling as comfortable as I could when I'm on the golf course." If -- or when -- he gets comfortable, watch out.
(10) Charles Howell III vs.
(15) Colin Montgomerie
Woods may have mounted the most memorable comeback in the first round, but Howell had the day's most dramatic victory. Two down with two holes to play, Chucky Threesticks closed with eagle-birdie to square the match, then added another birdie in the first extra hole to defeat Stephen Ames. Monty is playing with a little extra motivation this week -- and it has nothing to do with the Ryder Cup. He's currently not exempt into the Masters and needs to move from 62nd in the World Ranking into the top-50 before April rolls around. "I go to bed thinking about that and I wake up thinking about it," he said. "I don't want to miss out. The other six majors and world events, if you like, but the seventh one I'm not in, which is The Masters, which is sort of the big one. I'd love to be in there." Never discredit a player with extra motivation.

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.