Will Tiger and Rory advance? Breaking down the key matches at the Match Play Championship

Rory McIlroy
Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy faces Shane Lowry in the first round of the Match Play Championship.

Brackets are the only things the Accenture World Match Play Championship and the NCAA basketball tournament have in common.

While you might correctly predict two or three Final Four teams, you've got a better shot at nailing the West Virginia lottery than you do of forecasting the four players who will be left standing on the weekend at the World Match Play at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. Golf is unpredictable, any of the 64 players in the field is capable of shooting 64 on any given day and 18 holes is a veritable sprint.

Trying to predict match-winners at this golf tournament is like picking NCAA basketball teams to advance based on who's leading after the first six minutes. Even then, you'd still probably take Duke over Winthrop. That's March Madness, but this is February Folly.

Only a fool would try to predict Wednesday's first-round matches in Marana, Ariz. So as usual, here are my picks (and I will consider anything over 50 percent a success):

Rory McIlroy (No. 1 seed) over Shane Lowry (64): Rory is made for big, sprawling courses like this one, and he made it to last year's final, losing to Hunter Mahan. Rory likes match play too. He'll move on this year but hey, come back, Shane. Come back.

Tiger Woods (2) over Charles Howell (63): Howell's short game has improved, but even though Tiger is not a fan of desert golf, he'll hole at least one more putt than his good friend.

Luke Donald (3) over Marcel Siem (62): A player with a great short game is tough to beat in match play. That's Donald's strength, and why he is a former World Match Play champ. Luke will use the Force.

Louis Oosthuizen (4) over Richie Ramsay (61): It's been awhile since we heard from Ramsay, a Scot and the 2006 U.S. Amateur champ. Oosthuizen has the edge in experience.

Justin Rose (5) over K.J. Choi (60): Rose is entering the prime of his career and already has a runner-up finish this season on the European tour. Choi ranks 152nd in total putting -- not what you're looking for in a match-play format.

Tim Clark (59) over Adam Scott (6): Clark is one of the best iron players on tour. Scott is just getting his season in gear. Clark bars Adam from advancing.

Lee Westwood (7) over Rafael Cabrera-Bello (58): This is why Westwood moved to America, to perform better in Tour events like this. Westwood moves on.

Chris Wood (57) over Bubba Watson (8): Bubba has been ill and struggling to find his game this season. Even though match play is right up Bubba's alley, Wood is a rising European star, having eagled the last hole to win the Qatar Masters. Knock on Wood, he'll advance.

Charl Schwartzel (9) over Russell Henley (56): Schwartzel is playing some superb golf. He has had seven top-five finishes this year, including a pair of wins in South Africa. He'll roll on.

Richard Sterne (55) over Jason Dufner (10): Sterne already has a win at the Joburg Open this year. Dufner is still gearing up. It's Sterne this time.

Ian Poulter (11) over Stephen Gallacher (54): Is Poulter perhaps the best match-play player in golf these days? He is in the Ryder Cup. He gallops past Gallacher.

Sergio Garcia (12) over Thongchai Jaidee (53): Garcia is 16-8-4 in Ryder Cup matches, and he is always a tough out. Jaidee, a former paratrooper, is tough too, but Sergio is tougher.

Padraig Harrington (48) over Graeme McDowell (17): McDowell is a terrific putter, but Harrington is showing signs of rediscovering his major-championship form. The Irishman out-stews the Northern Irishman this time.

Nick Watney (19) over David Toms (46): Toms has started slowly in 2013. Watney was fourth at Torrey Pines. He's closer to finding his form, in the Nick of time.

Fredrik Jacobson (45) over Ernie Els (20): At Riviera last week, Jacobson was one 72nd-hole par from getting into the playoff. Freddie's game is up and down-his strength is scrambling, which makes him tough to beat. A mild upset here.

Hunter Mahan (23) over Matteo Manessero (42): Mahan is the defending champ, and he made a run at Riviera. He's primed to make the Final Four here again.

Zach Johnson (24) over Jason Day (41): Zach is one of the three best putters on the PGA Tour-Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker are most likely the other two. Day is trying to bounce back from a lost season. Always go with the better putter in match play. It's Zach time.

Bill Haas (28) over Nicolas Colsaerts (37): Haas lost a chance to defend his Northern Trust Open title when he stumbled on Sunday, but he looks like he's back playing the way he did when he won the FedEx Cup in 2011. He's a Haas afire.

Rickie Fowler (32) over Carl Pettersson (33): Carl withdrew after one round at Riviera due to the flu. Look out for Fowler, who steamrolled Phil Mickelson in this tournament in 2011 while wearing shoes with pink trim.

In other matches, I like Keegan Bradley over Marcus Fraser; Henrik Stenson over Steve Stricker; Webb Simpson over David Lynn; Dustin Johnson over Alexander Noren; Thomas Bjorn over Peter Hanson; Matt Kuchar over Hiroyuki Fujita; Bo Van Pelt over John Senden; Martin Kaymer over George Coetzee; Thorbjorn Olesen over Jamie Donaldson; Robert Garrigus over Branden Grace; Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano over Francesco Molinari; Scott Piercy over Paul Lawrie; and Ryan Moore over Jim Furyk.

 

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