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WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship: First Day Primer

February 21, 2012

With March Madness still a month away, it's golf's turn for some bracket-related drama. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is upon us and the world's top 64 golfers (with a couple exceptions) will tee off Wednesday morning at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club's Dove Mountain course in Marana, Arizona. Here are some thoughts on a very busy first day, which will consist of 32 opening-round matches.

Best generational battle:

No. 8 David Toms vs. No. 9 Rickie Fowler: Toms is 9-1 in the first round in this event, while Fowler made noise by crushing Phil Mickelson 6 and 5 in the second round last year.

Most contrasting styles pairing:

No. 5 Bubba Watson vs. No. 12 Ben Crane: The slow and methodical Crane takes on the "grip it and rip it" style of Watson. Of course, with their "Golf Boys" history, this duo is also the most likely to break into a duet.


Last year, Luke Donald beat Martin Kaymer and his buff to win this event. (Getty Images)

Upset special:

No. 2 Jason Day vs. No. 15 Rafael Cabera-Bello: This format, combined with the closeness in talent level in today's game causes plenty of "upsets" every year in this event. We single out this one with Day having not played great in match play at the Presidents Cup and having not played much at all in general in 2012. In contrast, Cabrera-Bello is still flying high after holding off Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy -- two of this tournament's No. 1 seeds -- in Dubai recently.

Biggest wildcard match:

No. 5 Tiger Woods vs. No. 12 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano: The Spaniard called his first-round opponent "beatable" in a pre-tournament interview. In the past, that guaranteed a quick exit (Stephen Ames, anyone?), but who knows how Woods will respond now. Still, it's tough to envision the 14-time major champion exiting in the first round for a second-straight year.

Bomber's Paradise:

No. 7 Alvaro Quiros vs. No. 10 Martin Laird: It's not quite the Quiros-Gary Woodland match we dreamed of, but it's close. While both of these guys absolutely kill it off the tee, it will be the other aspects of their often-overlooked games that will be the key to sticking around in the desert.

Most congenial couple:

No. 4 Sergio Garcia vs. No. 13 Miguel Angel Jimenez: These two Spaniards have become particularly friendly over the years through Ryder Cup competitions, despite their age difference. If Garcia flashes the form he showed during a Sunday 64 at Riviera, he could make a lot of noise here like when he made the semifinals two years ago.

Best Match:

No. 2 Webb Simpson vs. No. 15 Matteo Manassero: It seems weird highlighting what appears to be a mismatch on paper, but this is an intriguing match that could go a long way in determining who comes out of the Sam Snead division. Keep in mind, Manassero lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual champion Luke Donald last year at age 17.

Set your alarm clock grouping: No. 3 Dustin Johnson vs. No. 14 Jim Furyk: Both have had trouble making tee times in recent history (Johnson at the 2011 Northern Trust Open and Furyk at the 2010 Barclays) and this one is early. We just hope to see them both on the tee come 8:05 a.m.

Is that a misprint match?

No. 1 Luke Donald vs. No. 16 Ernie Els: Even with El's recent struggles, it still seems weird seeing him listed as a No. 16 seed. While top seeds, unlike in the NCAA basketball tournament, have been vulnerable in this spot, we think it's a safe bet that the defending champ will move on.

Double-digit seed poised to make a deep run: No. 11 Zach Johnson: More than his game, we like Johnson's draw. If he can get past Hunter Mahan in the first round, his toughest possible opponent until the quarterfinals would be No. 2 Steve Stricker, who hasn't played a competitive round of golf in more than a month.

Final Four predictions: K.J. Choi, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson and Charl Schwartzel. And the winner of this wild week? We'll go with the reigning Masters champ over Choi. At least, for now...

-- Alex Myers