The WGC Accenture World Match Play is supposed to be exclusively for the world's top 64 only but with high profile non-runners, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson, who rank 1st, 2nd and 4th in the world, they've gone down as far as, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, ranked 67th and profiled here by Mike Norman, to make up the numbers.
You can't blame Woods et al for not bothering, it's a lot of effort for potentially one round of golf and you only have to look at the number one seed, Henrik Stenson's, recent event record to see why they're absent - Stenson didn't play in the tournament in 2012 but he hasn't got past the first round in 5 years! And he's a former winner - he beat Geoff Ogilvy in the final in 2007.
It's a straight knockout starting on Wednesday. Thursday is the round of 32, Friday the round of 16, and the quarter-finals are on Saturday. Then on Sunday the final four play out the two semi-finals before competing in either the Championship Final or the Consolation Match. The players are seeded and split into four quarters, or brackets, as they're referred to.
Henrik Stenson is the number one seed in the Bobby Jones bracket and should the seedings pan out correctly, he's set to meet the number one seed in the Ben Hogan bracket, Rory McIlroy, in the semi finals. On the other side of the draw, Justin Rose is the number one seed in the Gary Player bracket, and he's set to play Zach Johnson, the Sam Snead bracket's number one seed, in the other semi-final.
The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, Marana, Arizona
Par 72, 7,791 yards
Designed by Jack Nicklaus in 2008, the Ritz-Carlton is a long desert track enjoying the spectacular backdrop of the Tortolita Mountain Range. There's plenty of room off the tee but if you stray into the desert you'll almost certainly lose the hole. Many a tie will be decided on the exciting drivable par four 15th. The large bentgrass greens will run at 11 on the stimpmeter.
This will be the sixth year in-a-row that the Ritz-Carlton has hosted the event but it will be the last.
Live on Sky Sports all FIVE days starting on WEDNESDAY at 5.00pm
Last Five Winners
2013 - Matt Kuchar beat Hunter Mahan 2 & 1
2012 - Hunter Mahan beat Rory McIlroy 2 & 1
2011 - Luke Donald beat Martin Kaymer 3 & 2
2010 - Ian Poulter beat Paul Casey 4 & 2 (36 holes)
2009 - Geoff Ogilvy beat Paul Casey 4 & 3 (36 holes)
What will it take to win the WGC World Match Play Championship?
Although the course is long, big-hitters don't seem to do particularly well here but that's perfectly understandable. With length, usually comes inaccuracy and over the course of five days and potentially six matches, somewhere along the line that inaccuracy will show up and as I detail in the In-Play Tactics section below, making up a deficit is really hard here. You spray one or two tee shots early on and go a couple down and you're in big trouble.
Neat and tidy types do well here and making few mistakes is the key to progression all the way to Sunday's final.
Is there an identikit winner?
Emphatically yes. You'll read umpteen times in the lead up to Wednesday's start that this is a lottery but so far, it's been far from that. In fact, Hunter Mahan, two years ago, who was matched at 60.059/1 before the off, is the biggest priced winner we've had since Geoff Ogilvy won the first of his two titles in 2006 and the only genuinely surprising winner in the event's entire history was Kevin Sutherland in 2002.
Steve Stricker caused a bit of a surprise when winning in 2001 but he's subsequently proven to be an esteemed Ryder Cupper and even inaugural champion, Jeff Maggert, who went off at 81.080/1, appeared in three Ryder Cups, and that's the best place to start...
Previous experience of the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Ryder Cup has so far proven invaluable. Last year, six of the last eight were all experienced Ryder Cuppers and of the two that weren't, one of them, Jason Day, being Australian, isn't eligible for the biannual bash but he had Presidents Cup experience. The odd man out was Robert Garrigus who succumbed to eventual winner, Matt Kuchar 3 & 2 in the quarter-finals.
The last six winners have not only been great match play specialists, they've also had previous event form in the bag. It's oh so easy to be seduced by great players at huge odds but if they haven't shown any event form yet you may need to worry and if they've got no event form and haven't played in the Ryder Cup either or at the very least, the Presidents Cup, you may have to think again.
The day for shocks is Wednesday, so if you want to play outsiders I'd suggest you do it then when the course is new to everyone and the hotpots might just get caught cold. And if you want to play matches in-running, stick with those in front - big turnarounds are really rare.
Of the 64 matches played at Dove Mountain last year, only seven players led after nine holes and failed to win and five of those were just 1 up through nine. The biggest comeback was by desert golf specialist Rafael Cabrera Bello, who came from 3 down to beat Lee Westwood.
Beware the bruising encounter, especially on the final day. Hunter Mahan wasn't quite on his game in the final last year after knocking out Mr Ryder Cup himself, Ian Poulter, in his semi final and twelve months earlier, Rory McIlroy had very little left to give against Mahan, after winning his grudge semi against Lee Westwood.
At the time of writing, the Sportsbook are still offering an industry-wide best of 17.016/1 about favourite, Rory McIlroy, and that looks more than fair to me.
He has what looks a straight forward task on day one when he takes on injury hit Boo Weekley. After that he'll either play Lee Westwood again or Harris English. Neither will prove anywhere near as easy to beat as Boo but if he gets passed round two, momentum could take him all the way.
Jason Day and Dustin Johnson are currently vying for second favouritism and of the two, I much prefer the Aussie. His long straight hitting is ideal for this venue, as he's already shown, and of all the competitors I've left out, he's the one I'll be hoping to see fall by the wayside early.
That's a possibility though and that's why he's been left out. His first round opponent, Thorbjorn Olesen is a classy type who plays desert golf well and if he beats him, he'll face either the confident Billy Horschel, who looks just the type for match play and who beat Rory in the 2007 Walker Cup, or another desert golf aficionado in Jamie Donaldson.
Dustin has to lift himself after his second runner-up finish in two weeks and he hasn't a great record, having been knocked out in round one in four of the last five years.
Henrik Stenson's recent record is even worse - he's been knocked out on Wednesday in each of his last four appearances.
I wouldn't put anyone off match play king and former winner, Hunter Mahan, at 25.024/1 but he's the last of the shorter ones to tempt me.
I just don't like backing the often unpredictable Sergio Garcia, who beat himself here in 2010 when he got to the semi-finals. Jordan Spieth is starting to become as disappointing in-contention as he is talented and he's making his debut anyway and Matt Kuchar played very poorly last week...
I backed him at Riviera because he'd drifted to such a big price but his play justified the drift. He made just two birdies and missed his first cut since the 2012 USPGA Championship. Defending might be tough.
Possible Betting Strategy
If you don't want to mess about in-running, my idea of the best strategy would be to try to spread your bets across the four brackets. Maybe pick out eight, two from each section, with the ultimate goal of getting all four semi-finalists. Of course, that's nigh on impossible but if you can get somewhere close, you can then start backing your selections next opponents and try and build a book that way. The first two days are key with that strategy though and if they all fall by the wayside early on you have to decide between a boring bet-free weekend or a potentially expensive tournament.
Although that system has served me well in the past (I backed Luke Donald when he won in 2011 at 46.045/1) last year I decided to change tack somewhat, cutting back on my pre-event picks and looking to back a few more in-running and in-between rounds instead. Given I backed Kuchar after round one at 27.026/1 I have to conclude it was a success, so I'm going to adopt those same tactics this year and I'm only playing three before the off.
As stated, I couldn't resist the generous 17.016/1 on offer about in-form McIlroy and I've also played fellow Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell...
G-Mac seems to be overlooked with regularity of late and that's certainly the case here. He's a magnificent match play exponent with previous event form and I think he's a great price at anything around 40.039/1.
He lost narrowly to Jason Day in the quarter-finals last year before going on to win the Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria. His Ryder Cup record is superb and if he gets past Gary Woodland in round one and either Martin Kaymer or Hideki Matsuyama in round two, he may well get another chance to beat Hunter Mahan. Remember Celtic Manor in 2010?
Thomas Bjorn hasn't fared well at the venue but the same can be said about his first round opponent, Francesco Molinari, too so something has to give. Thomas is a tough competitor who has the accurate game ideal for the course and although his record isn't great, if he does get through a round or two he might get a head of steam up and prove hard to beat. He's by far the weakest of my three but I've got a soft spot for the Great Dane and couldn't leave him out.
Rory McIlroy @ 17.016/1 (Sportsbook)
Graeme McDowell @ 44.043/1
Thomas Bjorn @ 120.0119/1
And finally, before I go, make sure you keep an eye out for Paul Krishnamurty's picks. He picked eight out of eight winners last year! No pressure Paul.
I'll be back on Thursday with a look back on day one and a look forward to day two.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter