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Preview: WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

Preview – WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship – The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Dove Mountain Course – Marana, Arizona –

Win or go home this week.

The World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play Championship brings together a host of the best players in the world this week at Dove Mountain Golf Club in Arizona.

The Top 64 players – according to the Official World Golf Ranking – are invited. But three players are skipping this week including Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson (third straight year to be with family).

The event begins Wednesday with 32 first-round matches as players start the quest for the Walter Hagen Cup bestowed to the champion Sunday afternoon. Tee times range from 7:25 a.m. local time with Ian Poulter against Rickie Fowler to Ernie Els battling Stephen Gallacher at 12:35 p.m.

Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Zach Johnson make up the four No. 1 seeds.

At more than 7,700 yards and par 72, the Dove Mountain desert layout can be challenging, if tee shots are off-line. Players seem to either like it or hate it. Look for regular faces to fare well on this layout. Expect to see quite a few shots out of cactus and desert hardpan. The greens are large and showcase plenty of tiers.

Surviving the first four days of competition, the champion will have to win two matches the last day with the semi-finals and finale scheduled Sunday.

Players are split into four brackets – Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Sam Snead. A few pods to watch in Wednesday’s highlighted matches include Poulter against Fowler (the Fashion Bowl) and the contrast in styles with McIlroy – a runner-up to Hunter Mahan at this event in 2012 – taking on Boo Weekley.

2013 Results:

  • Matt Kuchar turned away Mahan’s bid for back-to-back titles here winning 2 & 1 during a cold week which include a snow delay in Tuscan. Jason Day knocked off Poulter in the semi-finals 1UP. Graeme McDowell, Robert Garrigus, Webb Simpson and Steve Stricker were quarter-finalists.

For dream match ups, the Hogan Bracket could feature European Tour royalty if headliners hold their places. If that happens, Friday matches would include McIlroy against former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and Sergio Garcia pitted against Poulter.

FANTASY: It’s a shootout. Americans have captured this title only three since 2006 (Woods, Kuchar and Mahan), but U.S.-born players continue to work their way deep into this tournament. For fantasy lineups, this is a great opportunity to use international gems playing full-time on the European Tour, who make limited U.S. starts. Take Day, who was T-2 at Torrey Pines and ranks 3rd on the PGA Tour in Greens In Regulation and Driving Distance this year.  Keegan Bradley is due for a run if he gets out of the early rounds.

BETTORS: McIlroy (6-to-1 odds) is the overall betting favorite at Station Casinos in Las Vegas. This week is also about individual match ups each round. Play upsets instead of laying the big chalk numbers, especially early rounds Wednesday and Thursday. Poulter, a match play champion, is 25-1. The Hogan Bracket is difficult to call, so play contenders with easier routes to the final four – Simpson (20-1), Mahan (12-1) and for a longer-shot take Ryan Moore (45-1) out of the Player Bracket.

Other Golf News:

  • The LPGA Tour visits Thailand this week for the Honda LPGA Thailand. Rolex Ranking No. 1 Inbee Park makes her 2014 debut.
  • Mahan is 13-2 in matches at Dove Mountain heading into this week. He opens against Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, a proven winner on the European Tour.
  • KPMG signed Mickelson to an endorsement deal through 2016.
  • First-round updates are typical. Last year, Woods and McIlroy both slipped up early. Rose could be on the watch-list Wednesday. A bit rusty last week, Rose is making just his second start since recovering from a shoulder injury. He takes on long-hitting Scott Piercy in the Player Bracket. Rose is a minus-185 favorite in the head-to-head match.