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Ranking the 10 Best 1st-Round Matches at WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

Fred AltvaterContributor IIFebruary 17, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best 1st-Round Matches at WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

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    Matt Kuchar won the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play
    Matt Kuchar won the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match PlayAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Matt Kuchar will defend his title at the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain this week.

    He entered the 2013 WGC-Accenture Match Play as a sixth seed and defeated Hunter Mahan in the final match last year.

    Henrik Stenson ranked No. 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) is the highest-ranked player in the field this year. Other top-seeded players and their OWGR are Justin Rose (5), Zach Johnson (6) and Rory McIlroy (7) in the remaining three brackets.

    Since Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson declined their invitations, No. 65 Richard Sterne, No. 66 Scott Piercy and No. 67 Kiradech Aphibarnrat will get a chance to play for the $1.5 million first-place check.

    With a 64-man field, 32 first-round matches will be played on Wednesday. Here is a listing of the 10 best matches to watch.

10. Thomas Bjorn (6) vs. Francesco Molinari (11)

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    Thomas Bjorn is having a career year on the European Tour.
    Thomas Bjorn is having a career year on the European Tour.Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Thomas Bjorn (6) and Francesco Molinari (11) are both European Tour stars and have been teammates on Ryder Cup teams.

    Bjorn is having a career year with a win, three top-10 finishes and a T-13 in just five starts on the European Tour this season. He leads the Race to Dubai and is nearly a lock for the 2014 European Ryder Cup team.

    Molinari did not have one of his best years in 2013, but he posted five top-10 finishes, won €1.3 million and was No. 13 in the Race to Dubai. He has only entered two events thus far in 2014, finishing T-12 in the Nedbank and T-13 in Dubai.

    Bjorn will be 43 years old on Tuesday, and Molinari is 12 years his junior.

    This should be a classic match of age versus youth and two friends trying to eke out the win. 

9. Graeme McDowell (4) vs. Gary Woodland (13)

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    Graeme McDowell won the 2013 Volvo Match Play.
    Graeme McDowell won the 2013 Volvo Match Play.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open, was runner-up to Ian Poulter in the 2012 Volvo Match Play and came back to win that title in 2013.

    He has been on three Ryder Cup teams and made the winning putt at the 2010 Ryder Cup.

    All signs point to a McDowell win here, but Gary Woodland has been playing much better of late.

    Woodland won the Reno-Tahoe Open in August and was runner-up at The Barclays in the FedEx Cup playoffs. 

    He has only missed one cut in five starts this year, finished second in the CIMB Classic and was T-10 at Torrey Pines.

    His length from the tee could pressure McDowell to get out of his comfort zone.

    This match is all about length versus control. It should be a good one.

8. Graham DeLaet (6) vs. Patrick Reed (11)

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    Patrick Reed collected his second career win at the Humana Challenge.
    Patrick Reed collected his second career win at the Humana Challenge.Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Graham DeLaet has been playing some of the best golf on the PGA Tour this season. 

    He had an outstanding 2013 campaign with one runner-up, two thirds and seven top-10 finishes. He earned nearly $2.8 million and earned a spot on the International Presidents Cup team.

    DeLaet has continued his strong play with consecutive runners-up at the Farmers Insurance Open and in Phoenix. He has four top-10 finishes in six starts and is No. 12 in the FedEx Cup standings.

    Patrick Reed got his second career PGA Tour win at the Humana Challenge. It was his lone top-10 finish in seven starts this year.

    DeLaet is much more consistent and is one of the best drivers on tour. Reed has won twice on tour, but he is very streaky.

    The tone of this match is consistency versus aggressive play. Which will win out? 

7. Luke Donald (5) vs. Matteo Manassero (12)

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    Matteo Manassero and Luke Donald have met before in the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
    Matteo Manassero and Luke Donald have met before in the WGC-Accenture Match Play.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Luke Donald defeated Matteo Manassero in the third round of the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play on his way to winning the title that year.

    Manassero is still just 20 years old and has won a European Tour event in each of the last four years.

    Donald won the money titles on both the PGA and European Tour in 2011 and has several Ryder Cup appearances on his resume.

    Both of these golfers play a similar style game. Neither is extremely long off the tee and both rely on excellent short games and putting to keep them in contention.

    Even though Donald is 16 years older than Manassero and has eight more victories, this should be a very even match and could go to extra holes to decide a winner.

6. Charl Schwartzel (4) vs. Kevin Stadler (13)

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    Kevin Stadler won the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
    Kevin Stadler won the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Kevin Stadler's win in Phoenix was his first and only win on the PGA Tour. Charl Schwartzel has nine European Tour titles plus a green jacket from the Masters.

    Stadler is enjoying the best season of his career. He has not missed a cut in eight starts this year and has one other top-10 finish to go with his win in Phoenix.

    Schwartzel has one win plus three top-10 finishes on the European Tour this year and is No. 4 in the Race to Dubai.

    Stadler is playing with a ton of confidence right now, but Schwartzel is coming off a fifth-place finish at Riviera, his only start on the PGA Tour this year. 

    Schwartzel is a technician, and Stadler lumbers about the golf course like an old bear with a sour attitude.

    Just the contrast in the two men should make this an interesting match to watch.

5. Bill Haas (7) vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez (10)

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    Miguel Angel Jimenez is always a treat to watch on the golf course.
    Miguel Angel Jimenez is always a treat to watch on the golf course.Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Bill Haas has a classic long languid swing that has won him a FedEx Cup.

    Miguel Angel Jimenez's swing has more moving parts than one of his cherished Ferraris.

    Jimenez is the "most interesting man in golf." Haas is yet another of the long hitting, sweet swinging clones who are plentiful on the PGA Tour.

    Jimenez's warm-up routine alone draws golf fans' attention. He just won his second consecutive Hong Kong Open in December and turned 50 years old in January. 

    Haas will probably win this match, but it is always fun to watch Jimenez.

4. Hideki Matsuyama (5) vs. Martin Kaymer (12)

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    Hideki Matsuyama is one of the rising young stars on the PGA Tour.
    Hideki Matsuyama is one of the rising young stars on the PGA Tour.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Hideki Matsuyama is only 21 years old and has five wins in Japan. This is his rookie season on the PGA Tour, and he has two top-10 finishes in six starts.

    Matsuyama was a member of the 2013 International Presidents Cup team and posted top-10 finishes in both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship last year.

    Martin Kaymer won the 2010 PGA Championship and was No. 1 in the world for eight weeks after finishing runner-up to Donald in the 2011 WGC-Accenture Match Play. 

    Kaymer has struggled over the past two seasons, but he has one top-10 finish in just two starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour season.

    Both players are evenly matched, and it may come down to youth versus experience at the end.

3. Louis Oosthuizen (8) vs. Nick Watney (9)

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    Louis Oosthuizen won the Volvo Golf Champions in January.
    Louis Oosthuizen won the Volvo Golf Champions in January.David Cannon/Getty Images

    Louis Oosthuizen sat out a big chunk of the 2013 season due to injury. He returned to participate in the Presidents Cup in October.

    It appears he has regained the form that earned him the Claret Jug in the 2010 Open Championship at St. Andrews. He won his second consecutive Volvo Golf Champions in January on the European Tour.

    Nick Watney had one runner-up and four top-10 finishes in 2013, but he has yet to post a top 10 this season.

    His best finish is a T-29 in Phoenix, and then he missed his next cut at Pebble Beach.

    An No. 8 vs. No. 9 match should be very close. Oosthuizen has been playing good golfWatney, not so much.

    Beware of the prideful golfer. Watney cannot be happy with the way he has been playing and is due to have a stellar performance. 

    Maybe this is the week for him.

2. Rickie Fowler (14) vs. Ian Poulter (3)

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    Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler are both very colorful.
    Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler are both very colorful.Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    Golf fans may want to check the color settings on their big screens when these two are playing each other. They make the NBC peacock look bland.

    Fowler is ranked No. 56 on the Official World Golf Rankings and only has one career win on the PGA Tour. He is in the midst of swing changes to tighten his swing and may not be at his best versus Poulter.

    Poulter is a match-play specialist. He won the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play and the 2011 Volvo Match Play on the European Tour.

    He is always a standout performer for the European Ryder Cup team, and his scrappy style seems to fit nicely with the match-play format.

    The odds heavily favor Poulter to win this match, but which one will win the best golf attire is the real question.

1. Lee Westwood (8) vs. Harris English (9)

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    Lee Westwood has two career wins on the PGA Tour.
    Lee Westwood has two career wins on the PGA Tour.Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    This could be the best match of the first round.

    Lee Westwood has committed to playing more in the U.S. but does not have the results to show for it.

    He has 22 wins on the European Tour but has not won on the PGA Tour since the 2010 St. Jude Classic. He has 10 top-10 finishes in the last 20 major championships but is still seeking a signature win.

    Now 40 years old, the pressure is building on Westwood to collect quality wins and validate what should be a Hall of Fame career.

    Harris English won the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic. He also won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba on the wrap-around schedule and has five top-10 finishes in nine starts this season.

    English has the game and the personality to do well in this match-play format.

    Westwood needs the win, and English wants to win. 

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