By Lewis Pacelli
This week sees the first WGC tournament on the calendar, a match-play format event played over 5 days at The Gallery Golf Club in Marana, Arizona. For the spectator this is a great event, lots of passion and the best golfers in the game going toe to toe. We have the top 64 golfers in the world playing this week, barring Brandt Snedeker (injury) and Phil Mickelson (family holiday). Of course we have to mention Rory Mcilroy’s first appearance in a month and whether the time out has allowed him to adapt to the new clubs. Then we have a certain Tiger Woods coming into it fresh off a win in his last tournament. Not to mention Mr Ryder Cup, Sir Ian Poulter. All in all, it is going to be one hell of a week!
The course itself can simply be described by looking at the yardage. An incredible 7,849 yards. You need to hit it long, and when we say long, we mean LONG. It is the longest venue in PGA Tour history and requires everything including the kitchen sink off the tee. We can’t see anyone shouting “in the hole” on the par 5’s on this course shall we say. This naturally shouts out at the big hitters in the game. But match-play is a very different animal and the importance of putting well is huge. The hottest putter in the world right now, Brandt Snedeker, would have been perfect, but injury has meant his presence this week will be sorely missed. Our picks this week have taken into account course form, current form and match play performances in previous years.
Matt Kuchar (40/1 YouWin)
Matt Kuchar has been on our radar for a long time and we have always felt he has a fantastic game. His start to the season has been exemplary with 4 cuts out of 4 made, including 3 top 25’s. Which will suit the theme of the winner recording a top 10 in the tournaments prior to the WGC Matchplay. (Apart from last year’s winner Hunter Mahan)
His stats on Tour reflect a player who should compete on this course but also in what will be a tense environment for everyone. He lies 17th for GIR from 200+ yards and 63rdfrom 175-200 yards (28th last week). With the mammoth size of the course an obvious issue to contend with, it could be paramount that a straight and long-hitting iron player can find their rhythm and if the American does, he will be a tough opponent. He is 32nd for scrambling, which again could come into play, if the 2nd shot is wayward. We will run the streets naked if there is one player who doesn’t have a nervy drive or 2nd shot, as it is will be major-like conditions in this format. (You have our guarantee that photos will be put up if this does happen)
However, it is his putting which excites us the most. Holding your putts is arguably the most essential part of any matchplay tournament, as it can really put pressure on your opponent, especially if you consistently one putt. And Kuchar is currently 20th for strokes gained in putting and 17th in one-putt %.
As for his record at this tournament, last year he beat Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson on his way to the Ben Hogan Bracket final, before losing to eventual winner Hunter Mahan. Whilst in 2011 he beat the likes of Bo Van Pelt and Rickie Fowler on his way to a semi-final defeat at the hands of Luke Donald – who also ended up winning the event! He then defeated Watson again in the 3rd place play-off to finish the weekend off in style. He has shown that distance off the tee on this course is not everything, but with a cool head and accurate iron play, anything could happen.
He is against Hiroyuki Fujita in the first round, before a potential match against either Sergio Garcia or Thongchai Jaidee. He certainly has the capabilities of winning against any of those guys; lets just hope the American crowd get right behind their man and motivate him towards victory.
Ian Poulter (YouWin 25/1)
Ian James Poulter, or Sir Ian as we like to call him at DownThe18th. Mr Ryder Cup can’t get enough of match play. Who can forget how he almost single handily retained the Ryder Cup last year for Europe, winning all 4 of his matches. His passion to win is incredible. Put him against someone else on the tee and you will rarely see him lose. Poulter has already won this title back in 2010, beating Scott, Garcia and Casey along the way. The Englishman also has the European Tour’s answer to match play, the Volvo World Match Play Championship, safely in his back pocket too, picking that title up 2 years ago in 2011. He beat Westwood, Molinari, Colsaerts and Donald along the way. His Ryder Cup history is amazing. 2004 was his first appearance for Europe and they came out on top, with Poulter getting the winning points. 2008 Europe lost, but Poulter was top points scorer for either side. 2010 saw Europe regain the title and of course Ian was part of it, winning 3 of his 4 matches. And we’ve already touched on his Ryder Cup antics from last year. The Englishman has also won every time he has participated in the Seve Trophy (for GB and Ireland), with him winning every match in his last appearance back in 2011. We also can’t forget his win at the WGC HSBC Champions event last year too, showing he’s not all about match play! But all in all, how can you not fancy this man for the title this week.
Charl Schwartzel (Stan James 20/1)
Up there with Snedeker, you have to say Schwartzel is the form man in golf right now. In his last 6 outings, Schwartzel has had 5 top 5 finishes including 2 wins and 2 second places. His first appearance on the PGA Tour last week saw him finish 1 behind the winner John Merrick and was in contention at the top of the leaderboard all week. But if his form alone isn’t convincing enough, then how about looking at the yardage of the course this week. The South African is one of the biggest hitters in the game, he finds himself 4th in driving distance this year averaging 305 yards off the tee, so the course playing 7,849 yards will play right into his hands. His length off the tee is also sure to intimidate anyone he comes up against. Not only is he driving well but he is importantly putting well too! Charl is 1st on the PGA Tour in strokes gained through putting which will be vital this week when lots of important putts will need to be holed. In terms of match play history, Schwartzel was on the losing side at the last Presidents Cup but still managed to pick up an impressive 3.5 points. Although his previous history at this tournament doesn’t excite you, he has never lost in the 1st round here. But right now Schwartzel is a different animal and if there was ever a time for him to win this, it is now!
Hunter Mahan (25/1 Ladbrokes)
We are aware that is rare for the holder of this tournament to retain their title, Tiger being the last man to do so. However, Hunter simply screams at us that he has a major chance. He beat some very gifted players on the way to his win, including the likes of Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Rory McIlroy in the final. It showed he has the bottle needed in this format, whilst in 2011 he was unlucky to lose to eventual finalist Martin Kaymer in the 3rd round 2&1. That was at a time when the German was an unstoppable force. Just like Kuchar, he is not known as a big hitter and has proven that his skill around the greens is more than enough to succeed. He still lies in 15th for strokes gained in putting, which shows how he handles himself on the green. Whilst his form this year has been nothing short of extraordinary. Five tournaments played and five top 25’s made. He hasn’t edged into top 5 territory as of yet, however his consistency could be key to go far in this knockout tournament. Bare in mind, you do not have to play exceptionally to win this, you just got to keep plugging away at your opponent. And with hair like his, intimidation will be a factor that comes easy to the American…