World Number One Luke Donald begins his defence of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship with a mouth-watering first round tie against three-time Major Champion Ernie Els, as European Tour Members aim to continue their fine recent record in the first World Golf Championship event of the season.
The past two finals at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, in Dove Mountain, Arizona, have both been all-European Tour affairs, with Englishman Donald defeating Germany’s Martin Kaymer 3&2 last year, 12 months after his compatriot Ian Poulter defeated Paul Casey 4&2.
With 31 European Tour Members – nearly half of the 64 player field – teeing it up this week, there is another formidable looking challenge crossing the Atlantic looking to add to that sequence, with the European Tour providing the top four seeds in each bracket.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Number Two on the Official World Golf Ranking, will face South Africa’s George Coetzee, who secured his place in the field after the withdrawal of Casey due to a shoulder injury.
Englishman Lee Westwood, the World Number Three, will face Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, while World Number Four Kaymer, winner of the WGC HSBC Champions in China last November, will face Australia’s Greg Chalmers.
For the first time in the history of the event, three of the top four seeds are former World Number Ones, and it was as a result of his appearance in the final last year that Kaymer seized that particular crown from Westwood.
However, even Kaymer could not stop Donald from claiming his first victory in America for five years, and maiden WGC title, as the Englishman made the WGC – Accenture Match Play Championship the first of his three European Tour titles in 2011, en route also to capturing The Race to Dubai crown in December.
Donald, who was not taken to the 18th hole in any of his matches last year, faces a tough opening to his defence against South African Els, a seven-time winner of the Volvo World Match Play Championship who also won the WGC-Cadillac Championship in 2010.
That is one of nine all-European Tour first round ties on Wednesday, along with McIlroy versus Coetzee, Westwood against Colsaerts, the intriguing all-Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jiménez and the clash of the Swedes, Robert Karlsson against Fredrik Jacobson.
Denmark’s Thomas Björn, who defeated Tiger Woods on the 19th hole in the opening round 12 months ago, takes on Italian Franceso Molinari; 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell faces 2009 US PGA Champion YE Yang; Spaniard Alvaro Quiros is paired with Scotland’s Martin Laird and Englishman Justin Rose will start his campaign against Paul Lawrie, winner of the Commericalbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy.
South African Retief Goosen will make history when he becomes the first player to play in 13 editions of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and the two-time US Open Champion is drawn against American Brandt Snedeker.
Woods will also have records in his sights when he takes on Spanish debutant Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, with the 14-time Major Champion hoping the become the first player to win the event four times following his victories in 2003, 2004 and 2008.
Another former WGC-Accenture Match Play winner, Darren Clarke, who beat Woods in the 2000 final, returns to field for the first time since 2007 and the reigning Open Champion takes on American Nick Watney in the opening round.
Poulter, the reigning Volvo World Match Play champion, faces Korean Bae Sang-moon, while the youngest player in the draw, 18 year old Italian Matteo Manessero, takes on World Number Six Webb Simpson of America.