Accenture Match Play first-round preview

Updated: February 21, 2006, 3:43 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Golf's version of March Madness starts 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 David Toms claimed last year. Here are the breakdowns for all 32 first-round matches:

BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Tiger Woods vs.
(16) Stephen Ames
Hey, Stephen! Congratulations! With Thomas Bjorn withdrawing on Monday because of a sore neck, you're in the Match Play field! (Of course, you're, uh, facing the, um, top-ranked player in the world, so good, uh, luck with that.) Unlike McDowell, who's been under the impression he was matching up against Woods for the past few weeks, Ames hasn't had much time to get used to the idea. That can only help, though it's doubtful it will help enough.
(8) Robert Allenby vs.
(9) K.J. Choi
Don't expect any homages to Gary Player in this twosome. Both players were left off last year's International team roster at the Presidents Cup. A mysterious injury to Allenby's right hand helps the argument for Choi supporters. In nine career playoffs as a professional, Allenby has never lost. After admitting he was playing "awful" prior to last year's Match Play, he made it to the quarterfinals. Don't overlook him.
(5) Chad Campbell vs.
(12) Tim Herron
Battle of the Big Boys, as a pair of heavy hitters clash in this one. Campbell is listed at 205 pounds and Herron as 210. If you're naive enough to fall for that, maybe you'll also believe those weather reports saying there will be no rain at La Costa this week for the first time in, well, forever. Campbell already has a win (at the Bob Hope) and a runner-up (at the Sony) this season. He's made the quarterfinals here the past two years. And he's angling for a second straight Ryder Cup berth. What's not to like?
(4) Henrik Stenson vs.
(13) Paul Casey
Stenson has only played four career PGA Tour events, including last week's Nissan, where he was cruising along before imploding for a third-round 80. He's had as dramatic a rise in ranking as any player in the field and is a virtual lock to make this year's European Ryder Cup team; might have something to prove. Casey made some unfortunate comments about Americans in late 2004 -- in deference to a Ryder Cup query -- but won't have to face one until, perhaps, the second round. His game suffered an almost-immediate lapse at the time, but he has since played much better, winning in China in November. This will be a tight one.
(6) Stuart Appleby vs.
(11) Tom Lehman
Appleby has only once made it past the second round in six attempts at this event. Want him to play better? Try sending some fresh pineapples and coconuts to his hotel room. The back-to-back-to-back Kapalua champ hasn't won anywhere but the Aloha State in three years. Lehman isn't just a Ryder Cup captain, he's also a candidate to make the team. Coming off a top-10 at the Nissan, he could make some noise this week.
(3) Adam Scott vs.
(14) Lucas Glover
Good luck, Lucas. Scott seems like a natural pick to advance pretty far this week. Coming off a runner-up finish in L.A. during which he shot a final-round 64, the young Aussie owns results of T-5, T-9 and third in his last three starts at La Costa. Glover's a decent young player -- better than decent, really; he won last season's Funai Classic in dramatic fashion -- but this one might not make it past the 14th or 15th hole.
(7) Jose Maria Olazabal vs.
(10) Brandt Jobe
Happy birthday to you! Jobe turned 40 last August, Olazabal just reached that milestone two weeks ago. A longtime Ryder Cup competitor, Ollie has twice reached the quarterfinals in four trips to this event. He might not be the longest player off the tee, but Olazabal might have a few Seve-like tricks up his sleeve.
(2) David Toms vs.
(15) Ian Poulter
Here come the big guns! Both of these players made it to the Final Four last year (Toms was the eventual champ, Poulter finished in fourth), but obviously only one will reach the second round this time. Poulter will pound his drives 30-40 yards past Toms on most holes -- and will be shocked to learn he's away after their approach shots. Perfect course for Toms, as he showed last year.

BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Ernie Els vs.
(16) Bernhard Langer
When Els is healthy, he's among the world's top players, and right now he is fully recovered from last season's knee surgery. Langer is a notoriously slow player, but it might not matter much, as... ... Els will make quick work of him. The former European Ryder Cup captain won't be intimidated, but he won't win it all, either.
(8) Stewart Cink vs.
(9) Mike Weir
Cink's road to last year's quarterfinals must have looked like a Ryder Cup practice round, as he defeated Funk, Lehman and Love before falling to DiMarco. He's been sneaky good so far this year, with two top-15 finishes and no rounds higher than 72. This match could hinge on hockey freak Weir's mind-set after he no doubt watched a few recent Canadian losses in Torino. Will the Great White North's top golfer fare better than its top rink rats?
(5) Nick O'Hern vs.
(12) Fred Funk
O'Hern was hoping for a much easier match in this one -- like, say, Woods, who he famously defeated in last year's second round. Some guys are just built for match play. O'Hern, who has reached the quarterfinals in each of his two starts in this event, might be one of those guys. Wow! Check the records and see that Funk is 0-6 lifetime in this event. That's right -- six starts, six first-round exits. It's doubtful he'll stop the bleeding on Wednesday.
(4) Michael Campbell vs.
(13) Geoff Ogilvy
Cambo has something Ogilvy (and every other player) wants: a U.S. Open title. Ogilvy has something Cambo needs: a PGA Tour membership. Still being penalized for not playing enough events as a nonexempt member a few years back, the reigning Open champ is still toiling on the Euro Tour. Ogilvy is an up-and-coming player, but Cambo is a proven commodity. The reigning U.S. Open champ isn't exempt on the PGA Tour, but would love to stick it to officials with a WGC win this season.
(6) Scott Verplank vs.
(11) Lee Westwood
How hot is Verplank on the greens this year? Entering the Nissan, he led the tour in both putting average and putts per round, an almost-unheard-of feat. La Costa seems like the perfect course for a guy like Verplank, who doesn't drive it too far, but keeps it in the fairway and putts well. He's only 2-5 in matches here, but that pattern ends this week.
(3) David Howell vs.
(14) Steve Elkington
Don't know much about Howell? As Stuart Scott would say, "You better recognize!" Think Goosen with an English accent and (slightly) more facial expressions. Howell is now officially a full-time PGA Tour member, but he has yet to compete in the U.S. this season. Here's saying he starts it off on the right foot.
(7) Bart Bryant vs.
(10) John Daly
Interesting pairing, with one guy who has long battled physical problems (Bryant) against one who often has to fight the mental aspects of the game (Daly). Watch out for the disparity in length; if Daly's hitting wedge for his second shot, Bryant might be hitting a 4- or 5-iron. If Daly ever wants to make a Ryder Cup squad, this could be his public audition. Lehman has said he won't overvalue candidates' results in this tournament, but a win over Bryant couldn't hurt Long John's chances.
(2) Phil Mickelson vs.
(15) Charles Howell III
Tough draw for Lefty, who undoubtedly didn't expect to face a player of Howell's caliber in the first round, although maybe the Augusta, Ga., native is overrated in the minds of experts and quite properly positioned in the World Ranking. He's stuck on one career victory (in the now-defunct Michelob, back in '02) and has a 1-4 record in this event. Don't look now, but a second-round matchup between Mickelson and Daly would be more fun than a keg party at Hooters. Mickelson is a San Diego native who has reached the quarterfinals here four times. He owned two victories by this time last season, so he's got some catching up to do.

GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Vijay Singh vs.
(16) Graeme McDowell
Six years ago, Clarke conquered the entire field -- which included Singh -- to win this event. McDowell beat Clarke in the first round last year. Using the transitive property, logicians will tell you that McDowell should cruise in this match. In six Match Play starts, Singh has never made it out of the second round. Is he well-rested after a week off? Or could he use, say, four more days of R&R?
(8) Rory Sabbatini vs.
(9) Miguel Angel Jimenez
Just days removed from winning the Nissan, new PGA Tour money-leader Sabbatini will be a chic pick not just here, but to possibly knock off Singh in the second round. Stick with the hot hand. The Mechanic is making a long journey from Malaysia, where a second-round 77 crushed his title hopes. Meanwhile, Sabbatini happily cruised down the coast in his RV with only a large trophy weighing him down.
(5) Padraig Harrington vs.
(12) Rod Pampling
How did Harrington prepare for this week's event? By playing only one tournament so far this season -- last week's Malaysian Open, where he finished T-13. Not sure if the La Costa greens are made of the same grain as those in Kuala Lumpur, but either way, the Irishman could struggle this week.
(4) Angel Cabrera vs.
(13) Peter Lonard
Love the contrasting styles: Cabrera will hit the ball a mile into orbit, while Lonard's shots will be frozen ropes. The Duck is usually a good bet at rainy La Costa, but there will be no waddling through this week's unseasonably dry weather. Lonard burst onto the scene a few years ago, thanks in part to a fourth-place finish here in '03. He hasn't played well of late, but he'll take this one in a mini-upset.
(6) Davis Love III vs.
(11) Mark Hensby
Hensby plays his best golf when the pressure is on. Consider these finishes in '05: T-5 at the Masters; T-3 at the U.S. Open; and T-15 at the British Open. Is one start this year enough to have him in top form? Whatever happens, Hensby will have something interesting to say when it's over. The outspoken Aussie recently criticized revered Greg Norman in his homeland.
(3) Kenny Perry vs.
(14) Carl Pettersson
Pettersson is better than you may think. A former college roommate of Clark at NC State, he won last season's Fall Finish on the PGA Tour. Perry is remarkably accurate for a guy who drives it so far. That can be a backbreaking combination for a match play opponent.
(7) Tim Clark vs.
(10) Arron Oberholser
Two players heading in very similar directions. Clark is seemingly in contention just about every week he plays; that first PGA Tour win might be just around the corner. Meanwhile, Oberholser is just two weeks removed from his first tour win, a five-stroke triumph at Pebble Beach. Clark has a running bet with Scott as to who can grow their hair longer. Like Samson of the fairways, the South African is finding the extra locks to be lucky on the links.
(2) Chris DiMarco vs.
(15) Mark Calcavecchia
Calc can get very hot ... and very cold. If he's feeling it early, expect the birdie putts to fall and an entertaining match to unfold. If not... ... DiMarco is gritty, gutty, determined -- and all of those other things people use to describe players with a bulldog mentality. He's beginning to consider match play his bread-and-butter format.

SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Matchup Analysis The smart money says ...
(1) Retief Goosen vs.
(16) Paul Broadhurst
You already know all about Goosen, so here's the scoop on Broadhurst, who could be the least recognizable face to hit La Costa this week: A 40-year-old Englishman, he won last year's Portuguese Open -- his first win in 10 years and fifth overall on the Euro Tour. Broadhurst hasn't enjoyed much success in the U.S., however; his best career finish is a T-9 at the 1991 B.C. Open. When facing the world's third-ranked player, do not stare directly at the Goose. Those steely eyes have brought down many an opponent in recent years, including five of them here in '05, as Retief finished in third place.
(8) Justin Leonard vs.
(9) Ben Crane
Calling the medics of "ER"! Or "Grey's Anatomy." Uh, "Scrubs"? Crane missed two months last season with a back injury and saw it flare up again at the Buick Invitational three weeks ago. He hasn't played since then. Remember, Leonard has made some pretty big match play putts in his life. (Hint: Brookline. 1999. 17th green. Premature celebration. Ticked-off Europeans.)
(5) Darren Clarke vs.
(12) Shigeki Maruyama
Heading to La Costa and want to see some laughs, a few chuckles and plenty of wry smiles? Then check out this pairing, which includes two of the more ebullient personalities on tour. The Smilin' Assassin, Maruyama reached the Sweet 16 in each of his first three starts in this event, but he hasn't made it past the second round since then. Clarke will take out the victory cigar after this one.
(4) Luke Donald vs.
(13) Richard Green
Who is Richard Green? A lanky lefty from Australia who makes his home on the European Tour, he made the cut in nine of 11 events in the U.S. in '05. He also gave Toms perhaps his toughest battle en route to the title here last year, losing 1-down in the first round. Green's a solid golfer, but ask any top player and he'll tell you Donald is the next breakout star. It's an urban myth that he isn't long enough off the tee (averaging 285 yards per drive) to compete at many major venues. Even so, that lack of power won't hurt him at La Costa, where his precise ball-striking skills will be rewarded.
(6) Paul McGinley vs.
(11) Shingo Katayama
Gotta like the guys who take this event seriously. McGinley was one of a few Euro Tour regulars who warmed up at the Nissan last week in advance of this event, making the cut in the process. Katayama will look good with his patented cowboy hat, but the Irishman rides off into the sunset with a victory.
(3) Colin Montgomerie vs.
(14) Niclas Fasth
Fasth played the PGA Tour as recently as '04 but finished 172nd on the money list. So the Swede packed his bags for the comforts of the Euro Tour and promptly won twice in '05 while finishing seventh on the Order of Merit. Monty has played as many singles matches as any professional over the past 15 years. But which Monty will show up this week?
(7) Fred Couples vs.
(10) Sean O'Hair
FREDDIE! FREDDIE! We can still hear the Riviera galleries' chants for the crowd favorite. Surely, some of those fans will head down the coast to support Couples in this match of players with two of the higher Q ratings on tour. Last year's Rookie of the Year has plenty of great golf ahead of him. Unfortunately for O'Hair supporters, it won't happen this week.
(2) Jim Furyk vs.
(15) Zach Johnson
La Costa is a course that sets up very well for Furyk, a good fairways-and-greens type of player. Before bowing out in the first round last year, he had reached the quarterfinals three straight times. With one win and four runner-up finishes in '05, Furyk's primed for a huge season this year. No time like the present, right?

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.

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