World Number One Lee Westwood will lead the charge at the WGC-Accenture Match Play next week as 29 European Tour Members attempt to repeat last year’s dominance at Ritz Carlton Golf Club.
The top 64 players on the planet will converge in the Arizonian desert, where 12 months ago seven of the eight quarter-finalists held European Tour Membership and Ian Poulter was the eventual champion after seeing off fellow Englishman Paul Casey in the final.
Since then there has been a shift in the Official World Golf Ranking with Westwood heading to Arizona as the top seed and Germany’s Martin Kaymer second after he leapfrogged Tiger Woods, who had held the Number One spot for more than five years, with a magnificent victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Casey, who suffered his second final defeat in two years in 2010 following his loss to Geoff Ogilvy the year before, is up to World Number Six, while Graeme McDowell (five), Rory McIlroy (seven) and Luke Donald (nine) are all in the world’s top ten and aiming to continue The European Tour’s rich vein of form in WGC events, having provided the winner in three of the four last year.
Poulter is currently 12th in the world, but when it comes to match play golf, the Englishman has an enviable record. He dispatched Sergio Garcia 7&6 in the semi-finals en route to victory, and later in the year played a starring role in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory over the United States, winning three points from four including a singles victory against Matt Kuchar.
Indeed, it will be intriguing to see any repeats of The 2010 Ryder Cup singles matches, no less so than if McDowell meets Hunter Mahan, who he beat at the 17th hole to seal Europe’s 14½-13½ triumph.
Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, currently 57th, will be playing only his second tournament in America after breaking a number of records on his debut appearance at the Masters Tournament last April. The 17 year old became the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta National and his tied 36th finish was the best performance by a European amateur for 73 years.
Manassero, at 17 years and 310 days, is the youngest player to appear in a WGC-Accenture Match Play, beating the previous record set by Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, who was 18 and 153 days old at last year’s event. The Italian is one of two debutants, the other being Noh Seung-yul of Korea, who is ranked 63rd in the world.
Depending on withdrawals, Manassero could be matched up against American Steve Stricker, who will turn 44 on the eve of the tournament and is the second oldest in the field, in the first round.
Stricker won the title in 2001, and since the tournament’s inception in 1999, there have been only two multiple winners – Woods, who won in 2003, 2004 and 2008, and Australian Ogilvy, who triumphed in 2006 and 2009.