MARANA, Ariz. — Trying to handicap the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is nothing like the NCAA basketball tournament. If basketball is March Madness, this is February Folly. You flat-out know that North Carolina or Duke isn't going to fall to Winthrop or Cornell or some obscure No. 16 seed.
In the Match Play, there are no such guarantees. We've seen Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, frequently the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players in the world, fall in the first and second rounds. Tiger's early-round tamers include Peter O'Malley (a first-round TKO), Nick O'Hern (twice), Tim Clark and Thomas Bjorn. Last year, Mickelson got smoked by a young punk wearing pink shoes. (OK, he wasn't a punk. He was Rickie Fowler and he played great.) Phil has never gotten past the third round in this event. No wonder he's on a family vacation this week.
An 18-hole match between world-class players who are capable of shooting 64 on any given day is a coin toss. There is no way to predict anything. Only an idiot would try.
So here are my predictions. I filled in a bracket (hastily, of course — why waste time thinking when it's pointless?) that has Luke Donald beating Martin Kaymer in one semifinal and Charl Schwartzel defeating Lee Westwood in the other.
I'm going with Donald to win the title again. Why? Because he's got the best short game, he's the best chipper and bunker player on tour, and he's among the better putters, too. Here are the highlights of Wednesday's matches, followed by my complete picks.
BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Luke Donald over Ernie Els Donald is No. 1 in the world, and Ernie is struggling to rediscover his putting game. That's never good, especially when you're in that 40-year neighborhood where not much ever gets rediscovered.
Kyle Stanley over K.J. Choi Wow, here's a good one. I like Stanley because he's long and has no apparent weakness, and nothing he faces on the course is ever going to be worse than what happened at Torrey Pines. I give Kyle the edge on the greens, too, although I think Choi is onto something with that fat-grip putter.
Robert Rock over Adam Scott It's the Boy Toy Finals. Probably every woman in the gallery under the age of 40 (if there are any) will follow this group. Scott ranked 143rd in strokes gained-putting last year using a long putter. There are going to be first-round upsets. This is one of them.
Jim Furyk over Dustin Johnson You can't say Furyk beating anyone is an upset, but he is a 14 seed to Johnson's 3. This is a classic confrontation between sheer power and cunning shotmaking. I'll go with the cunning shotmaking, especially after watching D.J.'s woeful chipping and putting display at Riviera on Sunday.
BEN HOGAN BRACKET
Rickie Fowler over David Toms A good one to watch, for sure. Fowler has always excelled at match play, but the straight-shooting, good-putting Toms is a tough customer in this format. This may go extra holes. Wear sunglasses in case Rickie is wearing his punch-lime or neon yellow outfits, or you could suffer eye damage.
Ben Crane over Bubba Watson It's a grudge match between fellow Golf Boys — imagine if the Duke Boys had to square off on the golf course and the winner got the pink slip for the General Lee. Since Bubba owns that car now, he could actually make that wager in this match, but I doubt he will. Bubba's putting stroke has been a concern on the West Coast, and Crane used to be a wizard on the greens.
Hunter Mahan over Zach Johnson Another tough call. Both guys have put up some good rounds of late. When in doubt, go with the best putter — Zach attack.
GARY PLAYER BRACKET
George Coetzee over Rory McIlroy Here's your jet-lag upset special. McIlroy just flew in Monday night from the other side of the world, an 11-hour flight.
Sergio Garcia over Miguel Angel Jimenez Carnac the Magnificent says the winner will be a Spaniard. Sergio, coming off a scorching good round at Riviera where he holed two bombs, gets the nod.
Geoff Ogilvy over Keegan Bradley Not sure how much desert golf Bradley has played, especially since he played college golf at St. John's. If this match was at Madison Square Garden, I'd definitely go with Bradley, but Ogilvy is something of a match play desert fox.
Charl Schwartzel over Gary Woodland Charl loves this course, his second favorite in America next to Augusta. I'm not sure I get that, but I like his enthusiasm. Plus, Woodland is redecorating his swing at the moment. Go with the Masters champ.
SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Tiger Woods over Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano Tiger isn't a fan of desert golf or this course. He's got nothing but bad mojo here. That said, he's more invested in this week than he was in past years. He wants to erase Pebble Beach's sour taste, plus he looked damn good for three out of four rounds there. He's not far off. Also, it's really hard to fit Fernandez-Castano's name on the bracket, so don't pick him for reasons of space.
Alvaro Quiros over Martin Laird Quiros stars in that strangely compelling Callaway ad where he blasts a driver over the lake in front of the Bellagio fountains in Vegas. He's also got a good track record of playing desert golf in the Middle East. Laird uses a long putter.
Paul Lawrie over Justin Rose Lawrie, a forgotten Open champion, finally got back on the horse with a European Tour victory in 2011 and another this year. He's the only guy who ever looked as free and easy swinging a club as the Big Easy, Ernie Els. His comeback continues.
MY OTHER PICKS
Westwood over Colsaerts; Dufner over Hanson; Snedeker over Goosen; Wilson over Van Pelt; Bjorn over Molinari; Kaymer over Chalmers; Byrd over Kuchar; Stricker over Na; Baddeley over Oosthuizen; Yang over McDowell; Kim over Hansen; Day over Bello; Dyson over Senden; Poulter over Bae; Karlsson over Jacobson; Watney over Clarke; Simpson over Manssero; Haas over Ishikawa.
If you can bat .500 in the opening round, consider yourself a genius. I was 11-6 in last year's first round, picking my spots, and 10-6 with my picks the second day. Don't ask about the weekend.