Golf Rantings: February Madness!
Philadelphia, PA – Despite the efforts of Golf Channel and Accenture Match Play Championship pales a wee bit in comparison to the Selection Sunday you'll see in a little less than three weeks.
Yet, this is the strongest field to date on the PGA Tour schedule this season. The top 64 players in the world rankings are eligible and only two passed on the event.
Phil Mickelson, who would go in as the favorite based on his play two Sundays ago at Pebble Beach and a playoff loss at the Northern Trust Open, scheduled a family vacation for this week. That's code for "I don't really want to play in this event that much."
Paul Casey is still hurt and he's a two-time runner-up in this championship. He'd be a contender, but his absence won't be missed too terribly.
The field is set. The matches are penciled in, barring any other withdrawals, so let's analyze the brackets, found at http://www.sportsnetwork.com/merge/tsnform.aspx?c=sportsnetwork&page=golf- e/stat/MATCHPLAY-BRACKET.htm
BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Luke Donald comes into the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the defending champion. He couldn't be overjoyed to draw Ernie Els in the first round, but Els' record in this event borders on pathetic, so Donald should be a safe bet to advance past him.
Otherwise, this features some interesting names and perhaps the most interesting first-round match.
Dustin Johnson is the third seed and will meet Jim Furyk in Round 1. Johnson hits it a mile. Furyk will give up about 35 yards off the tee, but has the pedigree and mettle to take down Johnson, who showed serious short game problems Sunday at Riviera.
Thomas Bjorn is a fascinating name. He knocked out Tiger Woods last year and could make some waves.
This bracket will come down to Donald and upset special Bo Van Pelt. He's the No. 7 seed and will advance with wins over Mark Wilson and Johnson.
Donald will overcome all. His match-game record in both this event and the Ryder Cup is sterling and, frankly, this bracket doesn't do much for me. Johnson is shaky in clutch moments and No. 2 seed Adam Scott has missed a lot of time after having his tonsils taken out.
BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Martin Kaymer is the top seed and last year's runner-up. His game hasn't been sharp, but the biggest potential problem for the German is if it's chilly out and he has to wear a preposterous outfit (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/- cZPiekO71iM/TWlDs_o-LMI/AAAAAAAADqc/G_XQkzKiy-c/s1600/109453888%2Bkaymer.jpg).
Kaymer didn't get a great first-round draw, either. Greg Chalmers won twice in Australia at the end of last year and will get a ton of upset buzz, but Kaymer should be all right.
More than anything in this format, you'll see players who have done well continue to do well. Kaymer is one of them.
He will face Bubba Watson, the No. 5 seed, in the third round and Watson will take him down. Watson and Ben Crane will take longer than my sophomore year of college to complete their first-round match, but Bubba is truly one of the world's best right now. Like Kaymer, he has a strong record in this event and he will represent the Hogan bracket in the semifinals.
Graeme McDowell is a weak No. 3 and could meet Hunter Mahan in the second round if they both win. That would be a rematch of the decisive Ryder Cup bout from two years ago, when McDowell holed a long birdie putt to win 16, then watched Mahan barely make contact with the ball on 17.
I'm going with Mahan to come out of the lower half. No. 2 seed Steve Stricker gives pause for concern. Yes, he won the season opener in Hawaii, but with a balky neck, can he endure a possible six matches in five days?
GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Rory McIlroy is the No. 1 seed and this bracket is sneaky good. Geoff Ogilvy is the No. 12 seed, but a two-time winner. Ian Poulter is No. 6 and won two years ago. Keegan Bradley just showed a ton of marbles in his playoff loss to Bill Haas at Riviera, but the man who will come out of this bracket is the fourth seed.
Sergio Garcia was the best player on the course Sunday at the Northern Trust Open. He will have a tough time against his fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez in the first round, but Garcia is in great form.
He'll have a tough paper route to get to the semifinals. Garcia will have to eliminate The Mechanic, either Bradley or Ogilvy, then McIlroy. Poulter will be waiting at the bottom half, but Garcia gets by.
SAM SNEAD BRACKET
And now we get to Tiger Woods.
He is a three-time winner, but has been prone to some hiccups in this tournament. There was Bjorn last year, and anyone remember him losing to Peter O'Malley in his prime?
Woods drew Gonzalo-Fernandez Castano on Wednesday. He's due respect, but Woods will walk by that one. A match-up with Nick Watney or Woods' good buddy Darren Clarke looms. Watney is perhaps the most under-appreciated great player in the game. He will add his name to the list that bested Woods.
This is a great chance for Tiger this week. His match-up singles record since the scandal has been overall very impressive, aside from the Bjorn bumbling of 2011.
He trounced Francesco Molinari at the 2010 Ryder Cup and hammered Aaron Baddeley at the past Presidents Cup. Woods doesn't have to be spectacular to win in match play. He just has to do enough. Sounds foolish, but if Woods gets by Watney (and I don't think he will), he could go on to the semifinals.
Lee Westwood is No. 1 in the bracket, but has a shaky 7-11 record.
Haas is at the bottom of the draw with No. 2 Webb Simpson. My hunch is Watney knocks off No. 10 Martin Laird to get into the last four. Laird hits it a ton and is just the type of unheralded player who always does well in this thing.
Watson and Donald should be a fantastic blend of opposites, not unlike a fine bowl of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Donald will advance, but he's not going to win it all.
That honor will belong to Garcia.
Very quietly, Garcia has been one of the top five players in the sport since last fall. He won twice in his home soil at the end of last year's European Tour campaign.
This year, he has a pair of top-fives in only three starts. Garcia's final- round 64 at Riviera sealed the deal.
Sergio Garcia, 2012 WGC-Accenture Match Play Champion.
- The drama at the Northern Trust Open proved that golf can survive without Woods in a prominent role. It will just need Mickelson.
- There was a fascinating Twitter dust-up about Keegan Bradley's constant spitting Sunday. It shouldn't have taken away from the spectacular golf, and it's hard to tell a guy what to do in the pressure of back-nine Sunday golf, but watching a guy spit for five hours can be a little stomach-turning. My hunch is someone says something casually to Bradley that golf courses aren't his private spittoons.
- Movie moment - Oscar picks - "The Artist" for Best Picture, Clooney in the tightest race of the night for Best Actor, Viola Davis for Best Actress, Christopher Plummer for Best Supporting Actor for a movie not one person you know has ever seen and Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress, although I wouldn't count out Melissa McCarthy. Call it the Marisa Tomei theory.
- And, finally, the greatest thing that I have ever, or will ever write is that my son Lukas Blee Brighters was born last Friday. Golf is one of those transcendent things that unite fathers and sons. It did with my father and golf is certainly one of those things I most look forward to teaching my son. Then I'll get him lessons.