Hunter Mahan, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy are my three against the field for the Accenture Match Play Championship. However, stakes should be kept to a minimum due to the nature of the format which involves matches over just 18 holes ahead of the final which is played over 2 rounds. Sixty four players are competing in the first World Golf Championship event of the season but Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott are noticeable absentees.
The players are divided into four brackets and seeded based on world rankings. That means the player at number one in the rankings plays the 64th best player in the world in the first round. If players decide not to compete the world standings determine which reserves get a place. The organisers will be disappointed that three of the five best players in the world have not entered.
The objective of these WGC events is to get the best players to compete against each other more often. However, nothing can be done about those who decide not to play but it must be galling for the sponsors that two of the current major champions plus the world number one are swerving the event. One round is played on each of the first four days, then the semi-finals, 3rd/4th place match and final are held on Sunday.
For punters the event is a mix of the expected and the unexpected. In the history of the event there have been several winners at over 100/1 but the early round matches go generally to form. Backing the favourite in the first round over the last three years would have resulted in a strike rate of over 65% and a decent return on investment. However, as a betting medium the short matches represent an inherent flaw.
More fancied players have won over the last four years with the biggest priced winner in that spell being Poulter at 50/1 in 2010. The last winner at over 100/1 was Geoff Ogilvy in 2009 and even he was a former champion. Tiger Woods is the only successful favourite and he was the market leader in each of his winning years in 2003, 2004 and 2008, the last year in which he won a major.
Woods would probably swap 10 match play championships for that elusive 15th major. His career aim of surpassing Jack Nicklaus’s tally of 18 is becoming increasingly unlikely. His focus is now on winning a fifth US Masters in April so doesn’t feel the need to disrupt his break for an event that could be all over in less than four hours.
The championship is being played at Dove Mountain Golf Club in Arizona but on the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and not The Golf Club course that has staged the event since 2011. That means there is no course form to assess which only adds to the imponderables for golf bettors. Such is the unpredictable nature of the event the OnParProfits golf service is taking a week off.
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The match play event can throw up some strange results due to the short length of the matches. The prize money attracts most of the world’s best but Woods, Mickelson and Scott are now not motivated by money and probably think travelling to Arizona for what could less than a full round of competitive golf is just not worth the bother. In their absence McIlroy is the favourite to win the event for the first time.
Matt Kuchar is the defending champion this week but since the first staging in 1999 only Woods in 2003 and 2004 has won in successive years. Of the 15 champions nine have been Americans, four Europeans have won the event and Geoff Ogilvy from Australia is a two times winner. Seven of the winners have been current or former major champions. Mahan has the best recent form as the winner in 2012 and runner-up 12 months ago.
With a new course in Arizona the venue there are there possible ways of finding the winner. Getting a pin and hoping is the least scientific but focusing on players with form in Arizona and decent records in recent renewals are more logical methods of beating the bookies this week. Temperatures will me modest so coping with severe desert heat does not enter the equation.
Mahan lost in the final to Kuchar last year and beat McIlroy in the 2012 deciding match. He contended in two major championships last year and is currently on a solid run of form. He is 54th in the FedEx Cup rank, scoring at an average of less than 70 and at 33 in the world rankings is a typical former winner, except in the years when Tiger was the champion.
Our main pick has played in four events on the PGA Tour this season, made the cut each time, never finished outside the top 25 and has recorded two top 10 finishes. Therefore, he is a player in form, with a good record in Arizona and proven in the 64 field match play format.
Match play golf is what brings Poulter alive. He never gave up in the Ryder Cup and he was probably the only person who believed that Europe could win ahead of the final day singles last September. Poulter has a decent stroke play record and is well established in the top 20 of the world rankings but it is head-to-head golf that really gets his juices glowing. He has the ideal identikit of potential winners this week.
McIlroy is now down to 7th in the world rankings after his ‘annus horribilis’ of last year. He walked off the course mid-round in a PGA Tour event which didn’t go down well with Jack Nicklaus amongst others. He said he was brain dead at the Open Championship, was struggling to adapt to his new Nike clubs and was subject to media speculation over his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki to whom he is now engaged.
The former world number one was the moral winner of the Abu Dhabi Championship in January. He was retrospectively fined two shots in the third round after his partner’s caddie reported a minor rules infringement and eventually finished just one shot off the pace. It doesn’t go down in the record books as a win but he took fewer shots than any other player that week. The loss of world ranking points will be felt more keenly than any financial shortfall.
This is not a week for the golf betting purists and many may refrain from having a bet. The only thing that’s predictable about match play golf over five days is unpredictability but for those looking for a financial interest on the back of some winning weeks for OnParProfits should have Mahan, Poulter and McIlroy in their portfolio.