Having finished runner-up last year, Rory McIlroy will hope to go one better and secure his debut World Golf Championship title in this week’s star-studded, 64-man WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
At Ritz-Carlton Golf Club 12 months ago, the Northern Irishman was denied in the final by American Hunter Mahan, who broke European Tour Members’ stranglehold of the event following victories by Australian Geoff Ogilvy in 2009 and the English duo of Ian Poulter and Luke Donald in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
It was the closest McIlroy has come to adding a World Golf Championship victory to his two Major titles and, with 64 of the top 68 players in the Official World Golf Ranking – including three-time winner Tiger Woods – gathered for the first WGC event of 2013 in Arizona this week, the World Number One will have to be at his brilliant best to break his duck.
World Number Three Donald, who finished in tied 16th place in last week’s Northern Trust Open on the US PGA Tour, and his compatriot Poulter, who rubberstamped his reputation as one of the world’s most fearsome match play competitors at The 2012 Ryder Cup, will both have designs on lifting the trophy – and with it the €1,114,636 winner’s cheque – for a second time.
Their compatriot Justin Rose, the World Number Six, is also seeking his second success in World Golf Championship events, having made his breakthrough at last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship.
South African Louis Oosthuizen, one place babove Rose in the World Ranking, heads to Arizona in fine form, having won the Volvo Golf Champions at the start of the season; while his compatriot and fellow Major Champion Charl Schwartzel warmed up for his trip to Dove Mountain with a top three finish in the Northern Trust Open.
But perhaps the hottest player in the field is another South African, Richard Sterne, who sealed his place in the elite event with his victory at the recent Joburg Open.
Sterne’s win came on the back of a top ten in the Alfred Dunhill Championship and a runner-up finish in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a run of form which moved him to the top of The Race to Dubai and into the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Just three weeks ago, Sterne occupied 165th place in the World Ranking, and his hopes of making a first appearance in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship since 2009 seemed distant.
But after pushing Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher all the way in Dubai and then capturing his first European Tour title in four years in Johannesburg, Sterne leapt 110 places to 55th in the World Ranking, and so will travel to Arizona full of confidence.
Sterne’s compatriot Branden Grace is one of nine European Tour Members making their debuts in the tournament, with Wales’ Jamie Donaldson (29th in the World Ranking), Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen (40th), England’s David Lynn (52nd), Australian Marcus Fraser (54th), the Scottish duo of Gallacher (56th) and Richie Ramsay (63rd), Germany’s Marcel Siem (65th) and Ireland’s Shane Lowry (68th) also lining up for the first time in the US$8.75million tournament.
Lowry’s place in the field was confirmed after Phil Mickelson withdrew from the tournament, and he faces a mouth-watering clash with his old friend McIlroy, with whom he played as a junior and amateur.
A total of 37 European Tour Members – including World Number Eight Lee Westwood of England and the 2007 champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden – will tee up in the 15th WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
A straight knock-out tournament, the action gets underway on Wednesday and finishes on Sunday, when the two morning semi-finals will be followed in the afternoon by the 18-hole final.