Match Play Championship: Woods, Furyk have questions to answer

Tuesday, 22 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The world’s best golfers will converged on The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain yesterday for the first of two so-called practice rounds.

Like there’s any way to prepare for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Starting Wednesday, 64 of the world’s best golfers will square off in a head-to-head, single-elimination tournament that will test both their guts and their endurance. Players say the Match Play format is one of the most unusual and challenging in golf.

“There is more of a finality on each shot. Every shot feels like a must-make,” Stewart Cink said. “I have been very successful. I wish I could find the same level of intensity when I play stroke play.”

Other golfers, like Louis Oosthuizen, relish the change from stroke play.

“Match Play is always fun,” Oosthuizen said. “I’m just looking forward to the week.”

So are we. Here are five questions we’ll be asking ourselves as the curtain rises on Southern Arizona’s week of international golf:

1. Can Tiger get back on track? Tiger Woods hasn’t won a tournament since September 2009, at the BMW Championship, but we’re not counting him out. In fact, we’d bet on the world’s most popular golfer to win in Southern Arizona. Here’s why: Woods is 32-7 all-time at Match Play, has made the finals four times and won the tournament in 2003, 2004 and 2008. Only one other golfer, Geoff Ogilvy, has won the tournament more than once.

2. Can Henrik Stenson pull off a stunner? Stenson snuck into the Match Play field on Saturday, when Toru Taniguchi withdrew because of a neck injury. The steely Swede isn’t a typical No. 64 overall seed; he won the 2007 Match Play tournament over Ogilvy, and is viewed by many as one of the top head-to-head golfers in the game. Here’s guessing that Stenson gives top-seeded Lee Westwood all he can handle in Wednesday’s first round.

3. What will Ian Poulter wear? Ian Poulter shone on the way to last year’s Match Play title - literally. His color-coordinated outfits made a splash at the Tucson-casual event, so much so that Poulter polled the tournament’s Facebook friends to help him pick his ensemble for Wednesday’s round. Among the choices: A UA-inspired red-and-blue look. Poulter swears he doesn’t have a favorite.

“I like them all,” he said, “but one of them has to win.”

4. Can Jim Furyk bring some Arizona Wildcats mojo to Dove Mountain? Furyk is coming off a career-best season, one in which he won the FedEx Cup, took home three tournament victories and was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year. The former UA star will be a crowd favorite again at Match Play this year. The Wildcats basketball fan would be wise to channel Derrick Williams and swat a few.

5. How old will the winner be? This year’s Match Play could belong to the kids. The average age of the competitors is 32.46 years old, the youngest of any tournament in history. There are 23 players under age 30, tied for the most ever. So which youngster can prevail this week? We like American Rickie Fowler and a trio of young international stars: Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa and Italy’s Matteo Manassero. They’re 22, 21, 19 and - believe it - 17 years old, respectively. It almost makes Woods, 35, seem ancient. (