Paul Krishnamurty will be providing daily updates throughout this week's WGC marathon. Here's his initial look at the draw and early trading plan...
After more than a decade's experience of this unique tournament, punters should know precisely what to look for. First, look for proven expertise in matchplay. While this may be the same sport as strokeplay, the skills required in this head-to-head format are quite nuanced and clearly favour some more than others. Every year, the same otherwise top-class players seem to struggle. Secondly, since the event moved to Arizona, the WGC Accenture Match Play has become less of an outsiders' event, although there are still always plenty of upsets. Prowess in the desert is a must.
Third, study the draw in detail. Talent is never likely to be evenly distributed throughout the four brackets, so it is quite possible to identify a less challenging route to the latter stages. As in other sports involving a pre-planned draw like snooker or tennis, a smart trading plan is to pick one player from each quarter. That way, none can knock one another out until the latter stages and in a dream scenario, we could end up with all four-semi-finalists.
Along with my Find Me a 100 Winner trading plan, here's my main quartet. From Thursday I'll be offering daily outright and match tips, which will include reference to these opening selections and further trading advice should they progress.
This top bracket is, to use a footballing term, the group of death. In addition to world number one Rory McIlroy, who played superbly en-route to the final last year, this section includes bang-in-form fourth favourite Charl Schwartzel, world-class bombers Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson plus major winners Padraig Harrington, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell, while Steve Rawlings makes a strong case for Ryan Moore.
Without dismissing any of the above, none even made my first two choices! Instead, I like the look of emerging superstars Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, both available at 75.074/1, with very marginal preference for the latter. Day made a big impression in this two years ago, playing some brilliant stuff in the first two rounds before an unlucky defeat. The young Aussie's power game looks well suited to this layout and a couple of top-tens on his last three starts suggest an imminent return to the form that made him such a hot prospect during that stellar 2011 season. I think Day's power will be too much for Zach in the opening round and hopefully some of those big names will cut each other up to make his route a little easier.
In contrast, this could be the weakest bracket due to the dodgy matchplay records of many big-names involved. Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els, for instance, have repeatedly struggled in this event while Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen have won only one match apiece in three attempts here. My calculations were restricted to just three players. Matt Kuchar has won three quarters of his matches on this course, while huge-hitting Volvo World Matchplay champion Nicolas Colsaerts should be tailor-made for the test.
Instead though, I'm going for Keegan Bradley, as he won't meet either until the quarter-finals. Bradley's competitive instincts seem perfect for matchplay, as illustrated during a sensational Ryder Cup debut and an eyecatching performance here 12 months ago. In that sense, he seems like an American version of Ian Poulter, who has demonstrated more than anyone the importance of temperament and will-to-win in matchplay. He shouldn't have too much trouble with Marcus Fraser first up, before facing either Els or Fredrik Jacobson, who must be heartbroken after bottling his putt on Sunday's final green at Riviera.
Here's another brutal section, where a strong case could be made for at least half a dozen. The one man I couldn't even consider, however, is tournament favourite Tiger Woods. Several rank outsiders have either taken Tiger's scalp or caused him a big scare in this event, even during his heyday, and a record of two wins from five matches on this course hardly generates confidence.
Woods aside, it would be easy to argue for defending champion Hunter Mahan, especially following last week's career-best Riviera effort. Likewise, Lee Westwood played some of his best ever Stateside golf en route to the semis last year, while Martin Kaymer was runner-up in 2011.
I think Steve has this section of the draw bang on though, in pointing out the huge value in backing Peter Hanson at 80.079/1. Thomas Bjorn is there for the taking first up, while likely second round opponent Webb Simpson lost in the first round on his sole previous crack at this event. Last year's trip to the quarter-finals was one of a series of high-class performances in top US events by Hanson who, lest we forget, won twice during the autumn.
On the basis of matchplay and tournament pedigree, this final section looks all about Ian Poulter and Luke Donald but that is more than reflected in their skinny odds. Given that neither has yet shown their best this term yet, it may pay to look for value elsewhere.
Step forward the resurgent Henrik Stenson who, prior to losing the plot, had a stellar record in this tournament. When the event was played at the neighbouring Gallery course, Stenson won 11 matches out of 12, winning the 2007 renewal and losing a classic semi to Tiger Woods the following year. The demands of this Ritz-Carlton layout are broadly similar and Henrik has always been a desert specialist. I strongly fancy him to beat repeat event failure Steve Stricker in the first round and he won't have to worry about either Donald or Poulter until the last-16, assuming they don't come a cropper early on.