Accenture/WGC World Match Play Preview

Could the World Match Play signal a changing of the guard? I for one think so. Look for Phil Mickelson to dominate this week.

Mickelson in BlackVijay Singh and Tiger Woods are neck-and-mockneck atop the World Golf Ranking, with Singh holding a slight lead. Could this be the place for the two top guns to have a 36-hole shootout? Don’t get your hopes up for a No. 1-2 showdown at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, CA this week. First of all, the 64-player bracket is every bit as unpredictable as NCAA hoops in March Madness mode. Second of all, a third player is going to throw his visor into the “Who’s No. 1?” debate. He won’t have the world ranking points to officially claim the top spot, but at week’s end, look for Phil Mickelson to stand tall above Vijay, Tiger and the rest of the world for the all-important title of Best Golfer in the World right now.

Read on for details on how Phil is going to take over the world, as well as predictions for every single match scheduled for soggy La Costa at this week’s WGC/Accenture Match Play Championship.

The torrential rains that washed out half of last week’s Nissan Open are still pelting La Costa, located a couple hours south of Riviera (or longer, thanks to the SoCal traffic that inspired Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55”). It won’t take much to turn La Costa into a giant puddle this week, so keep an eye on the skies. If it rains a little, the wet conditions will likely bring lift, clean and place rules into play. That favors players who hit a lot of fairways, and it will also make the course play long.

Weather or not, here’s how I see the brackets breaking down (full-size bracket here).

Jones Bracket, 1st round:
(1) Vijay Singh vs. (16) Shingo Katayama: Shingo holds the advantage in terms of headwear style and number of fairway woods in play. Neither affects Vijay, whose caddie wears a “Shingo Who?” cap to the first tee. Winner: Singh, 3 and 2

(8) Jonathan Kaye vs. (9) Jay Haas: As much as I love Haas’ late-career resurgence, his stroke-play proficiency doesn’t translate into match play mojo. Winner: Kaye, 2-up

(5) Justin Leonard vs. (12) John Daly: The 5-12 matchup is a prime place for picking upsets in college hoops. A lot of people will be picking Daly to pull off a win here, but Leonard is a match play bulldog. Tortoise beats hare, with room to spare. Winner: Leonard, 4 and 3

(4) Chris DiMarco vs. (13) Tim Herron: DiMarco showed his match play fire at the Ryder Cup, and Herron is still recovering from various ailments. Winner: DiMarco, 2 and 1.

(6) Lee Westwood vs. (11) Steve Flesch: Westwood continues to be an inspiration for David Duval, pulling himself out of a career-threatening downward spiral. And he understands how to close the deal in match play. Winner: Westwood, 3 and 2

(3) Davis Love III vs. (14) Chris Riley: These two Ryder Cup teammates could hear some rumblings from the galleries. Love had a run-in with a fan at La Costa last year, while Riley might get some “Are you tired?” ribbing from bowing out of a Ryder Cup matchup due to fatigue. Winner: Love, 1-up

(7) K.J. Choi vs. (10) Tom Lehman: The newly named U.S. Ryder Cup captain gets a chance to show some game. Choi is solid, but Lehman is out to prove something this week. Winner: Lehman, 3 and 2

(2) Stewart Cink vs. (15) Fred Funk: The Ryder Cup partners go at it in a match that’s a blowout on paper. Cink has all the talent in the world, but his head gets in the way. Look for Funk to hang around, then steal this match at the end. Winner: Funk, 1-up (19 holes)

Jones Bracket, 2nd round:
(1) Singh vs. (8) Kaye: Two of the less-popular members of the Tour have a scowl-fest. Winner: Singh, 4 and 3

(4) DiMarco vs. (5) Leonard: Two guys that should be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team next year, even if they have to be captain’s picks. Winner: Leonard, 1-up

(6) Westwood vs. (3) Love: Despite his match play pedigree, Westwood still runs out of gas in most U.S. appearances. Winner: Love, 2 and 1

(10) Lehman vs. (15) Funk: No, it isn’t a practice round for the PGA Senior Championship. Winner: Lehman, 1-up

Jones Bracket, 3rd round:
(1) Singh vs. (5) Leonard: His win vs. Daly will show how far Leonard has come. His loss vs. Vijay will show how far he has to go. Winner: Singh, 2-up

(3) Love vs. (10) Lehman: A friendly match between two good guys. Lehman has the bigger smile at the end. Winner: Lehman, 1-up

Jones Bracket, 4th round:
(1) Singh vs. (10) Lehman: The crowd will be looking for a big upset here. Leave it to Singh to drain any semblance of charisma or excitement from the proceedings. Winner: Singh, 2 and 1, advances to the Final Four vs. the winner of the…

Hogan Bracket, 1st round:
(1) Retief Goosen vs. (16) Stephen Leaney: Sure, Leaney’s made it to the semis here before. But unless Goosen has a few too many Grey Gooses (or Geese?) on Tuesday night, this one goes according to plan. Winner: Goosen, 1-up

(8) Peter Lonard vs. (9) Fred Couples: Lonard’s a world-class grinder, while Fred is easing his way toward the Champions Tour. Still, La Costa has been good to Couples over the years. Winner: Couples, 2 and 1

(5) Chad Campbell vs. (12) Fredrik Jacobson: Campbell is flat-out streaky. It looks like he’s at the start of a hot streak, though. Winner: Campbell, 5 and 4

(4) Miguel Angel Jimenez vs. (13) Rod Pampling: The Mechanic vs. the Pampler. OK, I made the second nickname up, but Jimenez has the tools and experience to bust up the whole bracket. Winner: Jimenez, 2 and 1

(6) Todd Hamilton vs. (11) Robert Allenby: This could go either way. I look for Hamilton to play with a chip on his shoulder, courtesy of those calling his British Open win a fluke. That’s good for at least one win. Winner: Hamilton, 1-up

(3) Darren Clarke vs. (14) Graeme McDowell: Clarke will be a trendy pick to win it all. I pick him to finish second in the all-important “Best Pants” category to perennial favorite Ian Poulter. Winner: Clarke, 3 and 2

(7) Tim Clark vs. (10) Craig Parry: Could be the least-watched match on the course. After Johnny Miller said last year that Parry’s swing would make Ben Hogan vomit, do you think the PGA Tour was trying to be funny by putting Parry in the Hogan bracket here? Believe me, that qualifies as slapstick at the Tour. Winner: Parry, 1-up

(2) Mike Weir vs. (15) Kirk Triplett: Is the retro bucket hat surgically attached to Triplett’s head? Regardless, he’ll push Weir here, just not far enough. Winner: Weir, 1 up (19 holes)

Hogan Bracket, 2nd round:
(1) Goosen vs. (9) Couples: There’s a couch with your name on it at home, Freddie. Winner: Goosen, 2-up

(4) Jimenez vs. (5) Campbell: I have a feeling about this one. Campbell stomps Jimenez in a victory so chunky you could eat it with a fork. Winner: Campbell, 5 and 3

(3) Clarke vs. (6) Hamilton: Victory cigar No. 2 of the week for Darren. Winner: Clarke, 2-up

(2) Weir vs. (10) Parry: A surprisingly good match that could go extra holes. Winner: Weir, 1-up (20 holes)

Hogan Bracket, 3rd round:
(1) Goosen vs. (5) Campbell: Most weeks, Goosen wins this one easy. Not this time. Campbell fully establishes his presence in the zone by taking the U.S. Open champ out behind the fish taco stand for a whuppin’. Winner: Campbell, 6 and 4

(2) Weir vs. (3) Clarke: That rare Irish-Canadian showdown. St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and Weir is still bummed about the NHL season being lost. Winner: Clarke, 2 and 1

Hogan Bracket, 4th round:
(3) Clarke vs. (5) Campbell: Two big guys with lots of game. Campbell gets a small measure of Ryder Cup revenge and a bigger measure of respect for staring down the former World Match Play champ. Winner: Campbell, 2 up, advances to the Final Four vs. Vijay Singh.

Player Bracket, 1st round:
(1) Tiger Woods vs. (16) Nick Price: Sounds great on paper, but this matchup is one of the more lopsided in the draw. Price is savvy, and still a strong ball-striker. But he plays smallball, and his putting takes long vacations these days. Tiger? I think you know how he rolls. Winner: Woods, 3 and 2

(8) Nick O’Hern vs. (9) Charles Howell III: O’Hern isn’t Darren Clarke’s o’neighbor in Ireland; he’s an Aussie with plenty of game. But Howell is about to fulfill the potential he’s been flashing the last few years. Winner: Howell, 1-up

(5) Luke Donald vs. (12) Zach Johnson: Two good young players in a very even matchup. Donald showed plenty of Cool Hand Luke style at the Ryder Cup, and that’s what carries him past Johnson here. Winner: Donald, 1-up (20 holes)

(4) Kenny Perry vs. (13) Thomas Levet: Another Ryder Cup redux. Levet will put le spanking on Perry, who is in the early stages of one of his patented prolonged cold streaks. Winner: Levet, 2 and 1

(6) Jim Furyk vs. (11) Ian Poulter: Yes, more Ryder Cup leftovers. Poulter’s pants are bound to be entertaining. But the real eye-catcher in this match will be Furyk’s killer game face. Winner: Furyk, 3 and 1

(3) Stuart Appleby vs. (14) Joakim Haeggman: I think this is the year Appleby breaks through with a major, perhaps at the PGA Championship. In the meantime, he makes short work of Haeggman. Winner: Appleby, 4 and 3

(7) Thomas Bjorn vs. (10) Rory Sabbatini: Sabbatini is like Gonzaga. You don’t want to draw him in the first round, because he might shoot a 63 and send you home in a hurry. Or, he could shoot 73 and punch his own ticket. Winner: Bjorn, 2-up

(2) Padraig Harrington vs. (15) Jeff Maggert: The not-so-epic Maggs vs. Andrew Magee final from a few years back is exactly why the PGA Championship isn’t a match play event. Harrington will make sure Maggert doesn’t sneak through again. Winner: Harrington, 1-up

Player Bracket, 2nd round:
(1) Woods vs. (9) Howell III: Ever notice how Tiger is only buddy-buddy with the guys he can beat every time (see also O’Meara, Mark, and Riley, Chris)? Winner: Woods, 2-up

(5) Donald vs. (13) Levet: When’s the next Air France flight out of San Diego? Winner: Donald, 3 and 2

(3) Appleby vs. (6) Furyk: I’m still wondering about Furyk’s wrist problems. Winner: Appleby, 1-up

(2) Harrington vs. (7) Bjorn: Sure to be the slowest match on the course. Winner: Harrington, 2-up

Player Bracket, 3rd round:
(1) Woods vs. (5) Donald: Luke’s the real deal. But you’re familiar with Tiger’s work, right? Winner: Woods, 2-up

(2) Harrington vs. (3) Appleby: One of the best matches of the tourney. Set the TiVO. Winner: Harrington, 1-up (23 holes)

Player Bracket, 4th round:
(1) Woods vs. (2) Harrington: Tiger sends a message to Team Europe. Think you can beat my team? OK. Think you can beat me? Better check yourself. Winner: Woods, 4 and 2, to advance to the Final Four against the winner of the…

Snead Bracket, 1st round:
(1) Phil Mickelson vs. (16) Loren Roberts: Another tortoise vs. hare match. This time, the hare wins with room to spare. Phil likes to show off in front of the home folks, and has won at La Costa before (back when the Mercedes Championships were there). Winner: Mickelson, 2-up

(8) Angel Cabrera vs. (9) Paul Casey: Think Casey will take some crap for his alleged anti-American tabloid story? Oh, and admitting he’s in therapy might give the crowds some fodder, too. That’s a lot to have on your mind, and methinks Casey doesn’t have much room up there to begin with. Winner: Cabrera, 3 and 2

(5) Stephen Ames vs. (12) Mark Hensby: Unless one of these guys makes a hole-in-one, you won’t be seeing any highlights from this match on SportsCenter. A 12 seed finally wins. Winner: Hensby, 1-up

(4) David Toms vs. (13) Richard Green: Green’s star is on the rise, and this is The Year of the Lefty. But Toms is tough at La Costa, where he overcame severe food poisoning to finish second to Tiger in 2003. If he sticks to chicken broth this week, he’ll do OK. Winner: Toms, 2 and 1

(6) Shigeki Maruyama vs. (11) David Howell: As a founding member of the Shigeki-san fan club, I’m a bit biased. But I think he smiles his way through a dogfight with the underrated Howell. Winner: Maruyama, 1-up (19 holes)

(3) Adam Scott vs. (14) Trevor Immelman: Scott just won the mini-Nissan Open, and he should be fresh after only playing 37 holes to do so. Immelman is going to be a stud, but Scott has arrived in full. Winner: Scott, 2-up

(7) Scott Verplank vs. (10) Jerry Kelly: Two warriors who love to grind it out. This won’t be pretty, but it will be fun to watch. Winner: Kelly, 1-up

(2) Sergio Garcia vs. (15) Alex Cejka: Where’s Sergio in the battle for No. 1? Exactly. He’s showing signs of getting back to top form, but he won’t get all the way back this week. Winner: Garcia, 2 and 1

Snead Bracket, 2nd round:
(1) Mickelson vs. (8) Cabrera: Watch out for a letdown. Cabrera will hang around until the end. Winner: Mickelson, 1-up (19 holes)

(4) Toms vs. (12) Hensby: Is Hensby the Cinderella story of this year? Maybe just for a day. Winner: Hensby, 2 and 1

(3) Scott vs. (6) Maruyama: Scott’s in the zone. Sorry, Shigeki. Winner: Scott, 3 and 1

(2) Garcia vs. (10) Kelly: Maybe the most intense match of the day. Kelly goes to the mat, but Sergio has too many shots in the bag. Winner: Garcia, 2-up

Snead Bracket, 3rd round:
(1) Mickelson vs. (12) Hensby: Not even close. Mickelson rallies after a close scrape. Winner: Mickelson, 4 and 3

(2) Garcia vs. (3) Scott: This would be a nice final twosome at Augusta, no? Winner: Scott, 1-up

Snead Bracket, 4th round:
(1) Mickelson vs. (3) Scott: Great match. Lots of birdies, with Phil pulling away down the stretch on a very familiar course. Winner: Mickelson, 2-up, to advance to the Final Four vs. Tiger Woods

Semifinals (The Final Four):
Singh vs. Campbell: Vijay’s run of dominance stops here. Campbell announces his presence to the world with a resounding, and popular, rout. Winner: Campbell, 4 and 2.

Woods vs. Mickelson: Tiger’s Jedi mind tricks fail to faze Phil. The two take turns doing Seve Ballesteros impressions, spraying tee shots and making highlight-reel pars. But Phil’s on fire, and Tiger’s still not quite there (but he’s close, he assures us after the match). Winner: Mickelson, 2 and 1

Mickelson vs. Campbell: More fireworks, as both players collect birdie after birdie in the 36-hole final. Phil smiles all day, knowing that Singh vs. Woods is the consolation match. He keeps smiling through to the now-familiar scene of his daughters blitzing their dad after he sinks the winning putt, secure in his place atop the world of golf.

Winner: Mickelson, 2-up.

Catch the Accenture/WGC Match Play Championship on TV at these times (all times Eastern):

Wed     2-6:00 pm          ESPN
Thu     2-6:00 pm          ESPN
Fri     2-6:00 pm          ESPN
Sat     10:30-2:30 pm      ESPN
Sat     3-7:00 pm          ABC
Sun     10-1:30 pm         ESPN2
Sun     2-6:00 pm          ABC

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