MARANA, Ariz. — You might as well discard the word upset from your vocabulary when you're talking about 18-hole matches. That's one thing we've learned over the years here at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
That said, there were a lot of surprises in the first round, and my fearless (some would say brainless) predictions didn't fare particularly well.
Ernie Els eliminated No. 1-ranked Luke Donald with a putting display that recalled Ernie in his 20s. My Jet-Lag Upset Special also fell short, as Rory McIlroy bounced back from an 11-hour flight and beat George Coetzee.
The Gary Player bracket was a black hole for my ill-fated predictions. I liked K.T. Kim, Sergio Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy, Simon Dyson and Ian Poulter. All wrong. I was 2-6 in that bracket, but 5-3 in the Snead bracket.
The goal for round one is always .500; I was 14-16. Hey, there's always tomorrow.
Speaking of which, here are Thursday's picks (all tee times Eastern), almost guaranteed to be better than Wednesday's.
BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Ernie Els over Peter Hanson (1:49) It was the shock of the day when 64th-seeded Els knocked off No. 1 Luke Donald. Els suddenly fired up his putter and made five birdies in 14 holes to stun the defending champ. Els was one of the premier match-play players in his prime because of his great short game and his deadly putting stroke inside 10 feet. He's battled the putter the last few years, but he's rolling it confidently now. Look out.
Kyle Stanley over Brandt Snedeker (2:01) You might not call it a grudge match, but it's an interesting rematch between the playoff foes from Torrey Pines a few weeks back. Stanley needed only a double bogey on the final hole to win and famously made a triple, then lost the playoff. Stanley may eventually prove to be the class of a crop of good young American players, and I'll give him the edge over Snedeker, who is awfully good on the greens and knocked out Retief Goosen with a clutch putt on Wednesday.
Mark Wilson over Robert Rock (12:13) The Rock has now knocked off Tiger Woods (in Abu Dhabi) and Adam Scott. The Rock is on a roll, but Wilson, your Humana Challenge winner, had five birdies and looked comfortable in his first-round win. He's still underrated.
Francesco Molinari over Dustin Johnson (12:25) Congrats to Johnson, who for once is not looking for a plane out of Tucson on Wednesday night. Still, he needed a couple of chip-ins and a few unforced errors from Jim Furyk to win on a day that included way too many trips to the desert. In Molinari, he faces a better-than-average ballstriker.
BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Martin Kaymer over David Toms (1:01) Toms had to withstand a Ryder Cup-like late rally by Fowler, making clutch birdie putts at 16 and 18 to eke out a 1-up victory. Kaymer is a desert fox; he's played his best golf on tracks like this in the Middle East and won handily over Gregg Chalmers on Wednesday. Toms hits it straight and putts well, so he's one tough customer in match play, but Kaymer is, too. No reason yet to back off my call that Kaymer makes the final four.
Matt Kuchar over Bubba Watson (1:13) Watson chipped in and holed putts and looked in control of his match against his pal and fellow Golf Boy Ben Crane. Kuchar had a back-and-forth match against Jonathan Byrd, which Kuchar won with a birdie at the last hole after Byrd had made a nice comeback from 3 down. You have to like Kuchar's consistency, and his putting, against the streaky Watson.
Steve Stricker over Louis Oosthuizen (11:25) The Oosthuizen who crushed the British Open field at St. Andrews is a formidable foe, but we haven't seen much of that guy since. Oosthuizen looked very sharp in his win over Aaron Baddeley on Wednesday, but match play is all about putting, and Stricker still looks like the world's best in that department.
Y.E. Yang over Hunter Mahan (11:37) Mahan went to overtime for his first match but didn't exactly light it up, playing the first 18 in even par. Yang was five under Wednesday and looked like a former major champ, which he is.
GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Rory McIlroy over Anders Hansen (2:13) Hansen won three of the first four holes on the back nine and rolled past K.T. Kim. McIlroy played a pretty sloppy match, and struggled to close it out, missing a par putt at 17 that would've clinched it. George Coetzee returned the favor by three-putting the 18th. McIlroy will be favored again, but I think it will be close.
Keegan Bradley over Miguel Angel Jimenez (2:25) Sergio Garcia, always tough in match play, figured to be on a roll after his stellar finish at Riviera, but Jimenez took him out. Bradley, a playoff loser at Riviera, is definitely on a roll. He's got the power and a hot putter, and he played a fairly stress-free match in steamrolling Geoff Ogilvy. "I played about as good as I could play," said Bradley, who hit every fairway and every green. Impressive.
Jason Day over John Senden (12:37) Senden didn't miss a fairway in his first-round win; he's a ball-striking machine. Day's game looked ragged early, but he played well late to rally from 3 down for an overtime win. Day gets the edge on the greens.
Charl Schwartzel over Sang-Moon Bae (12:49) Bae is underrated because he's unknown in the U.S., and he knocked off former Match Play champ Ian Poulter. But Schwartzel, your reigning Masters champion, loves this golf course and is playing well. I still like him to reach the final. One down, four to go.
SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Lee Westwood over Robert Karlsson (1:25) Could be trouble for Westwood as Karlsson racked up six birdies in 13 holes to trounce Freddie Jacobson. Westwood is a match play horse, though, and had six birdies of his own in the first 13 holes of a 3-and-1 win over Nicolas Colsaerts.
Nick Watney over Tiger Woods (1:37) It was a struggle, but Woods sank a clutch 10-foot par putt on the final green to salvage a win. He looked spotty at best. Watney played very well while his opponent, Darren Clarke, didn't, so it wasn't much of a match. Watney feels good and is confident. Tiger is still searching.
Matteo Manassero over Martin Laird (11:49) Manassero was very solid in knocking off Webb Simpson, while Laird had to make a clutch birdie at the 18th to eliminate Alvaro Quiros. Manassero gets a big edge on the greens.
Paul Lawrie over Ryo Ishikawa (12:09) Ishikawa won four of the last five holes to stun Northern Trust Open champion Bill Haas, quite a turnaround. Lawrie survived a hard-fought match with Justin Rose and looks to be playing his best golf since his '99 British Open win.