AFP: England’s Lee Westwood will make his first US start as world number one against Sweden’s Henrik Stenson when the $1.4 million World Golf Championships Match-Play Championship begins Wednesday.
And third-ranked Tiger Woods, a three-time Match-Play champion who is also a top seed in his quarter of the 64-man bracket, will open against Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, a two-time British Open runner-up who won at Qatar two weeks ago.
German world number two Martin Kaymer and reigning Masters champion Phil Mickelson are also top seeds in pairings that follow world rankings except for 2007 Match-Play winner Stenson, in from 65th after Japan’s 64th-ranked Toru Taniguchi withdrew due to a neck injury.
Mickelson opens against Australian Brendan Jones while 2010 PGA Championship winner Kaymer’s first match will be against South Korean Noh Seung-yul.
“I just try and worry about my own game and if I play well, I know I can beat who I’m playing,” Australian veteran Robert Allenby said. “It’s when you start worrying about your opponent or everyone else you come undone.”
Woods, still seeking his first victory since the sex scandal that erupted 16 months ago, faces a tough draw in order to end his drought this week.
Woods, a 14-time major champion, won the event in 2003, 2004 and 2008, but none of those was contested on the current Dove Mountain course.
Irishman Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion, and Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who won the event in 2006 and 2009, meet in a first-round feature matchup with Woods, if he advances, facing the winner in the second round.
England’s Paul Casey, the WGC Match-Play runner-up the past two years and a second seed this year, plus South African stars Ernie Els and Tim Clark and Colombia’s Camilo Villegas, third last year, are among possible quarter-final foes for Woods.
In 10 starts at the event, Westwood has never reached the third round, but he will be expected to break that barrier, in part because Stenson’s only top-10 effort since 2009 in a PGA-sanctioned event was his share of third at last year’s British Open.
Westwood’s potential second-round foes are Americans Anthony Kim and Nick Watney with South African Retief Goosen, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and South Korean K.J. Choi among his possible third-round rivals.
US second seed Steve Stricker, who opens against Italian teen Matteo Manassero, or English third seed Luke Donald could await Westwood in the quarter-finals.
Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Italy’s Edoardo Molinari are also in that portion of the bracket.
Mickelson could face rising US star Rickie Fowler in round two and either reigning British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa or US veteran Matt Kuchar in round three of a difficult draw to the last four.
His quarter-bracket also features second-seeded reigning US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and English third seed Ian Poulter, the defending champion. Poulter and McDowell could meet in round three.
The quarter also features South Korean Yang Yong-Eun, the first Asian man to win a major title, plus England’s Ross Fisher and his first-round foe Allenby.
“Match play is one of those games,” Allenby said. “You could shoot 7-under and lose. You could shoot 1-over and win. It just depends on your partner. But it is just one hole at a time.
“If you’re on your game, you should win, but Match Play is very funny. It’s a very fickle game so anything can happen. It plays with your mind, Match Play does, and probably at the end of the week it’s the one with the toughest mind will win.”
That could well be Kaymer, although he faces a tough draw as well with England’s Justin Rose or American Zach Johnson in round two and Swede Robert Karlsson or American Hunter Mahan potentially lurking in round three.