Patrick Reed watches his sand shot on the 16th hole during a practice round for the Match Play Championship golf tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 in Marana, Ariz. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)The Associated Press
Rory McIlroy hits to the 18th hole during a practice round for the Match Play Championship golf tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 in Marana, Ariz. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)The Associated Press
Patrick Reed watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during a practice round for the Match Play Championship golf tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 in Marana, Ariz. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)The Associated Press
MARANA, Ariz. – Rory McIlroy played his worst golf in the Match Play Championship the year he reached the final.
Henrik Stenson was on the verge of losing in the first round to Zach Johnson in 2007, facing a tough up-and-down to avoid falling two holes behind with three to play. He saved par, Johnson missed a birdie putt, Stenson birdied the next two holes and the Swede wound up winning the Accenture Match Play Championship.
There are brackets, just like the NCAA Tournament.
There are no Coastal Carolinas.
The most fickle of World Golf Championship gets underway Wednesday. The whole tournament is a bracket buster. McIlroy was asked about this chance this week, and all he knew was that he played Boo Weekley in the first round.
Here are five things to consider going into the opening round, one of the most exciting days in golf:
THE CURSE OF THE NO. 1 SEED: Tiger Woods, who is not playing this week, has been the No. 1 seed nine times in 13 appearances, and he has done fairly well. He won the Match Play Championship three times, lost in the final another time and was knocked out in the first round only once as the top seed.
The others have not been so fortunate.
In three of the last four years, the No. 1 seed was gone after the opening round — Rory McIlroy (by Shane Lowry) in 2013, Luke Donald (by Ernie Els) in 2012, and Steve Stricker (by Ross McGowan) in 2010. The exception was Lee Westwood in 2011. He lost in the second round.
The burden this year falls to Stenson, who is the No. 1 seed because Woods and Adam Scott are not playing. His opening round was against Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
DOVE MOUNTAIN: The Match Play Championship hasn't been warmly received since moving to the high desert north of Tucson. It was held on The Gallery course for three years, then the Ritz-Carlton. Even with wide fairways, there is a premium on accuracy because of desert golf. Golf balls roll forever in the desert, stopped only by a bush or a cactus. And that usually leads to an unplayable lie.
This most certainly is the final year at Dove Mountain. Accenture is not renewing as title sponsor, and the tour is looking at options.
RYDER CUP PREVIEW: In a peculiar coincidence, half of the opening-round matches will have a Ryder Cup flavor to them — USA vs. Europe. Just don't expect Tom Watson or Paul McGinley to be glued to the television.
Most of these matches feature players who have only seen a Ryder Cup from their living room.
Bubba Watson plays Mikko Ilonen of Finland. Watson probably has never met Ilonen. It's a fair bet he's never heard of Finland. Matt Kuchar plays Bernd Wiesberger of Austria. Billy Horschel plays Jamie Donaldson of Wales.
The most compelling match is the first one — Ian Poulter against Rickie Fowler, two of the most fashion-conscious players at Dove Mountain.
"It's not about out-fashioning Rickie Fowler, it's about beating him on the golf course," Poulter said. "My job is to send him home as early as possible and that's what I will try to do."
CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP: Now that the Tavistock Cup is (thankfully) history, perhaps they should move this to Lake Nona in Florida. Graeme McDowell or Gary Woodland could have saved the trip out West. Not only are both Lake Nona residents, they flew out on the same plane. And now they play each other in the first round.
"We'll have one Lake Nona player through to the second round — we know that much," said Stenson, who also was on the plane.
Others from Lake Nona include Peter Hanson and Justin Rose.
THE ABSENTEES: There's a small consolation for sponsors, fans and television viewers who lament the absence of three top stars — Woods, Scott and Phil Mickelson have chosen to sit this one out.
Neither of them were around very long last year, either.
Woods is missing the Match Play Championship for the first time in America when he was healthy. He was planning to be in Sochi until girlfriend Lindsey Vonn re-injured her knee. Mickelson's attendance has been spotty in recent years, and now his two youngest children have spring break this week. As for Scott?
"My record speaks for itself in Arizona," Scott said at the start of the year. He only made it to the second round twice since it moved to Dove Mountain in 2007.
Not that it will make easier on anyone else trying to win this wacky event.