News & ToursApril 27, 2015

The 9 matches we're most looking forward to at the WGC-Match Play

This year's WGC-Cadillac Match Play has a new venue (TPC Harding Park) and format. Instead of starting with a bracket of 64 golfers, there are now groups consisting of four players each. One winner from each of the 16 groups -- which were chosen at random with ping-pong balls on Monday -- will advance to the weekend's knockout rounds, a la the World Cup.

Here are the nine "group-play" match ups on Wednesday-Friday we're most looking forward to watching.

Group 1: Rory McIlroy vs. Billy Horschel

The last time these two played each other in match play, they were representing their respective sides at the 2007 Walker Cup. Horschel got the best of McIlroy that week and got under the Northern Irishman's skin for his on-course celebrations. The two claimed they've put the matter behind them, but that doesn't mean they won't each get a little extra pleasure by beating the other at Harding Park. --Alex Myers

Group 2: Jordan Spieth vs. Mikko Ilonen

On paper, this might look like a mismatch between the recent Masters champ and the veteran European Tour member who is only in the field because Phil Mickelson withdrew. Think again. For one thing, as we've seen year after year, no one is a safe bet in this event. And secondly, Ilonen has more match play chops than you might realize. The Finnish player had his finest season in 2014, winning twice, including the Volvo World Match Play Championship, in which he bested Henrik Stenson in the final. Of course, Spieth is the No. 2 player in the world, though, and he's had plenty of match play success as a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champ.* --A.M.*

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Group 4: Bubba Watson vs. Keegan Bradley

Two of Team USA's strongest contributors in recent years, Bubba and Keegan both won't be easy outs. Keegan doesn't have a stellar WGC-Match Play record (1-3), but when paired with Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup, he comes alive. Maybe he should ask Phil to walk with him in the galleries at TPC Harding Park to pump him up and slap him on the butt. --Stephen Hennessey

Group 5: Jim Furyk vs. Martin Kaymer

These two didn't face each other on Sunday in the "Meltdown at Medinah," but their reactions on the final hole seemed to be the event's most lasting images. Furyk hunched over in agony and Kaymer raising his arms and fist-pumping after sinking the winning putt. Both are also U.S. Open champions and have squared off in this event before with Furyk winning 4 and 2 in a 2009 second-round match. --A.M.

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Group 7: Jason Day vs. Zach Johnson

Day is the defending champion and owns a 14-3 record in the Match Play -- which along with his stellar 3-1 record at the last Presidents Cup -- makes him one of the most feared match-play opponents in the world. But when he faces Zach Johnson, he's going up against one of the most fearless players in the world. Johnson can get hot with the putter, and he just recently switched back to his trusted Seemore. This might be an upset if ZJ wins but it wouldn't be hugely surprising to us. --S.H.

Group 8: Dustin Johnson vs. Victor Dubuisson

Dig the long ball? Well, these are two of the longest hitters in the world. Dubuisson announced himself to golf fans around the world with his uncanny recovery shots in last year's WGC-Match Play final when he took Jason Day to 23 holes. And he took down another fellow bomber, Bubba Watson, last year. DJ is 2-6 in past WGC-Match Plays, but his game wasn't really suited to the past venue, the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain. He's been solid in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups and has been playing great in 2015, so this should be an interesting match. --S.H.

Group 11: Jimmy Walker vs. Ian Poulter

Pitting perhaps, the best golfer on the planet in 2015 not named Jordan Spieth in Walker versus a Ryder Cup legend in Poulter. The Englishman has more pro match play experience in singles than anyone in the field with a career record of 34-14-5. But Walker proved himself in this format at his Ryder Cup debut last fall. Still, as a No. 1 seed, no one could blame him for feeling unlucky for drawing Poulter right away. --A.M.

Group 13: Rickie Fowler vs. Graeme McDowell

There's a ton of match-play experience in this group. Rickie is a two-time Ryder Cupper and owns a 7-1 record in two Walker Cups. McDowell won the clinching point in his 2010 Ryder Cup defeat over Hunter Mahan, and went 3-0 in 2014 at Gleneagles. G-Mac hasn't played great this year, but the guy thrives in this format as evidenced by his victory at the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship. --S.H.

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Group 14: Matt Kuchar vs. Hunter Mahan

The U.S. Ryder Cup teammates will make up the only group-play match involving two former champions of this event. Other than Jason Day, Kuchar has the best current match play winning percentage (69) of anyone in the field. Mahan isn't far behind at No. 4 (66 percent) and he nearly matched Tiger Woods as the only repeat winner of this event. Who stopped him in the 2013 final? That's right, Kuchar. --A.M.

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