The WGC-Match Play is barren. And I’m not just talking about its remote location north of Tucson that’s hard to get to when it isn’t snowing at this time of the year.
The field is barren, devoid of three of the top four players in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Part of the problem here is the PGA Tour is a victim of its own success. Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson have gotten so rich off the bloated purses and the endorsements that came with all their victories, they can afford to skip any event that doesn’t fit their comfort zone or schedule.
It’s no secret the course at Dove Mountain isn’t very popular among most of the players. And the prospect of traveling across an ocean from another continent only to lose in the first round never has been appealing to the top internationals.
But for golf junkies, this event is a feast. Especially opening day Wednesday when drama, upsets and the vagaries of match play make for must-see TV.
The first round pairings that intrigue me the most start with Ian Poulter vs. Rickie Fowler. Just checking out what they’re wearing will be a curiosity. Poulter is a match-play wizard. Fowler is fearless but his swing is under construction. The good news there is one bad hole won’t ruin him against Poulter the way it would in a normal medal-play event.
Boo Weekley vs. Rory McIlroy presents every kind of contrast you could imagine. McIlroy is young, personable and paparazzilicious. Weekley would rather be fishing and didn’t even know the rules of match play the first time he showed up for this event.
Golf writers are supposed to root for the story. So I will be pulling for Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who is only in Arizona because Mickelson, Woods and Scott aren’t. Aphibarnrat, with a name that even defies spellcheck, gets No. 1 seed Henrik Stenson in the first round. He is good enough to pull off the upset.
Other matches of interest include Gary Woodland vs. Graeme McDowell; Harris English vs. Lee Westwood; and Bubba Watson (a winner Sunday at Riviera) against Finland’s Mikko Ilonen, who quietly has been playing some very good golf on the European Tour.
Enjoy this thing while you can. By the weekend there will be just a few players remaining and much of the buzz will be gone. Remember, one year Andrew Magee played Jeff Maggert in the 36-hole final. So don’t be surprised if we get David Lynn vs. Richard Sterne.
And don’t be surprised if they move this event back to LaCosta, north of San Diego, in the near future.