(Reuters) - Unpredictability is the abiding theme for this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona where every player in the 64-man field is prepared to expect the unexpected.
Because of the sheer lottery of the matchplay format, good form does not guarantee success in Wednesday’s opening round and a player could easily be sent packing despite piling up a bunch of birdies in a bogey-free display.
“We know you can shoot 64 and someone else shoot 63 and you’re going home,” Swedish world number three Henrik Stenson told reporters at Dove Mountain on Tuesday.
“You can shoot 74 and you still squeeze by because the other guy is having a worse day than you are having.
“You’ve got to be able to squeeze by on the matches when you’re not playing that well. Hopefully you’ll win the ones where you’re playing well. It’s all about timing in that sense.”
Stenson is the tournament’s top seed with world number one Tiger Woods and second-ranked Australian Adam Scott opting not to play in the first of the year’s four WGC events.
He said he felt no added pressure due to his elevated status.
“I don’t think it makes a difference for me here,” explained the 37-year-old Swede. “If you’re going to have a good week, you need to play well.
“You need to have better luck on your side and it doesn’t really matter if you’re No. 1 seed or if you’re No. 50 coming into this week.”
Stenson, who ended a stellar 2013 campaign by topping the European Tour’s money list after also securing FedExCup honours on the PGA Tour, will come up against Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the first round.
Former world number one Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who was beaten by American Hunter Mahan in the 2012 final, said the event’s unpredictability made it very difficult to hold any expectations for the week.
“What is a good week? You could shoot 67 tomorrow and be going home,” said McIlroy, 24. “It’s hard to know. You have to take one match at a time.
“The year that I got to the final here, I didn’t play very well the first three days and then my game started to come around. I played well in the quarters, the semis and the final, as well.
“It’s just one of those formats ... someone can get hot and that can be it. Expectations, I’ve just got to go out and try to beat whoever I’m up against,” added McIlroy, who meets American Boo Weekley in the opening round.
Mahan, who also reached the final last year before losing to compatriot Matt Kuchar 2&1, was delighted be back at a venue where he has produced a lot of winning golf.
“Excited to be here, excited about this event,” said Mahan, who will face Spaniard Gonzalo Fenz-Castano on Wednesday. “Obviously I enjoy this golf course. It’s a lot of fun to play.
“Wherever you’re drawn, you’re going to have to beat some good players. Who you may go up against (next) isn’t really relevant and it’s who you go up against (on the day).
“One year I had to beat Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar and Rory McIlroy. You’re going to have to beat some great players no matter who you have to play or what bracket you’re in.”
Stenson, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England, American Zach Johnson and double major winner McIlroy are the top seeds in the four groups of 16 for this week’s tournament.
For a sixth consecutive year, the elite event that brings together the world’s best players will be held on the 7,791-yard layout at Dove Mountain’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry