If you want your early fix of March Madness tournament action, 64 of the best golfers in the world are in Arizona this week to play some single elimination golf. If you like upsets and a wide open tournament, then this is the event. Martin Kaymer, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood, this year’s top seeds, will hope to perform better than last season’s. Last year, all of the #1 seeds were eliminated by the second round.
Last year, the higher seeded player won only 20 of the 32 matches on the opening day, and the match play semifinalists featured a #2 seed, #3 seed, #4 seed, and #6 seed. The tournament will again be at the Nicklaus-designed Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain course in Marana, Arizona. The course, like many of its modern brethren, is going to require length (7,849 yards) and shot making ability. Here’s a course guide with hole-by-hole layout and distances for those who are interested (Saguaro is the front 9 for this tournament; Tortolita is the back 9).
Here’s a full listing of the tournament bracket, which begins with Ian Poulter and Stewart Cink at 7:25 local time (9:25 on the East Coast) and sees the pairs go off every 10 minutes until all 32 groups hit the course. The #1 seeds tee off near the end of the day, with Mickelson’s match with Brendan Jones beginning at 11:25 local (Mountain) time, and Woods starting against Thomas Bjorn at 11:45.
Here’s a quick bracket by bracket preview, with the top four seeds listed, a highlighted first round match, my guess among the top 4 seeds in the group to advance, and my bracketbuster seeded 5 or lower. If they fail (likely) I can just chalk it up to the randomness of the tournament, and if I somehow get some right, it was pure skill.
BOBBY JONES BRACKET
Top Four Seeds: #1 Lee Westwood; #2 Steve Stricker; #3 Luke Donald; #4 Retief Goosen
First Round Match: #2 Steve Stricker vs. #15 Matteo Manassero (9:25 MT). The top seeds do not have it easy in this bracket. I could have gone with Westwood, who has never advanced far in this event, drawing 2007 Champion Henrik Stenson, another matchup that belies the seeding. But I’ll go with the 17-year old Manassero against the 44-year old Stricker. Manassero is likely a tougher draw than his ranking because he is still building up points, but the young Italian phenom has played well in big stages, finishing in the top 40 two years ago as an amateur at the Masters in his only other trip to U.S. soil.
Top Seed Pick to Advance to Match Play Semis: Luke Donald
Sleeper Pick to Advance: #7 Charl Schwartzel. The next South African golfer to emerge, Schwartzel is leading the European Tour in scoring average so far in 2011. Of course, he will have to get past 19-year old Ryo Ishikawa, so that pick could go down in flames early also.
BEN HOGAN BRACKET
First Round Match: #3 Ian Poulter vs. #14 Stewart Cink (7:25 MT). In a match that could pass for a final day Ryder Cup pairing, the defending champion of this event, the always quotable and fashionable Poulter, will meet up with the American veteran Cink.
Top Seed Pick to Advance to Match Play Semis: Tough to go away from defending champ Ian Poulter here, but I’m going with Graeme McDowell.
Sleeper Pick to Advance: #6 Alvaro Quiroz. The 28-year old Spaniard is the longest driver on the European Tour, and is starting to mature into a better golfer, improving his greens in regulation. If he can keep his long drives in play at Dove Mountain, he could be dangerous. If Poulter does get upset, it could come in the second round to Quiroz. Can I pick two in this bracket? Please. #8 Rickie Fowler too. My 91-year old grandfather, who watches more golf than anyone I know, mentioned Fowler when I talked to him. If he can advance, he could get a shot at Mickelson in round 2.
GARY PLAYER BRACKET
Top Four Seeds: #1 Martin Kaymer, #2 Rory McIlroy, #3 Jim Furyk, #4 Robert Karlsson
First Round Match: #8 Zach Johnson vs. #9 Justin Rose (12:35 MT). The winner of this match will have a good chance to challenge Martin Kaymer, and may then be as good a favorite as any in this bracket if they can pull the upset.
Top Seed Pick to Advance to Match Play Semis: I want to make the completely sentimental pick here, Jim Furyk, but I’ll go with Rory McIlroy.
Sleeper Pick to Advance: #9 Justin Rose. Rose has always been tempting, but I think if any of the later guys can make a run, he could be the one. He’ll have to get past Martin Kaymer to do so.
SAM SNEAD BRACKET
Top Four Seeds: #1 Tiger Woods, #2 Paul Casey, #3 Ernie Els, #4 Dustin Johnson
First Round Match: #8 Geoff Ogilvy vs. #9 Padraig Harrington (11:55 MT). Winner likely gets Tiger Woods. Ogilvy is a 2-time champion of this event (2006 & 2009) and was also the runner up in 2007. Harrington is a less stellar 11-10 in the event. If Ogilvy meets Woods in the 2nd round, they would account for 5 of the 12 winners of this event.
Top Seed Pick to Advance to Match Play Semis: This is the bracket with the big guns: Woods or Casey, Casey or Woods. Paul Casey has been to the finals the last two years at this course. Woods is not on as good form, but used to be such a beast in match play events, from his amateur days to Ryder Cup, and has won this event three times (2003, 2004, 2008). The betting line doesn’t help with the decision (Woods, Casey and Kaymer are the top favorites, at only 14 to 1). I’m going to go against recent form and Casey’s two year run to the finals, and say Woods gets it going and survives the tough Snead bracket.
Sleeper Pick to Advance: #12 Bill Haas. Haas has been on good form recently, with 3 top 10 finishes in five starts in 2011. He’ll get a chance to advance as a popular 12 seed pick out of an all-Yank quadrant that includes Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, and Mark Wilson.
[photo via Getty]