Rose expects seeds to be scattered
Golf: Justin Rose has summed up this week’s Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson in a nutshell and it should make Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Luke Donald and Louis Oosthuizen really nervous.
The first world championship of the season brings together the game’s top 64 players, or in this case 64 of the current top 68 with Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker not playing and Ireland’s Shane Lowry — McIlroy’s first round opponent tomorrow — having dropped to 68th since qualifying by 0.0002 ranking points.
Fifth seed Rose said as he looked ahead to the most unpredictable week of the golfing year: “If you look at tennis the top four seeds seem to advance to the semis at every grand slam. If the top four advanced to the semis here we’d all be in disbelief. It simply doesn’t happen.”
The tournament, in its 15th year, has never seen the leading four players make the last 16 without at least one of them crashing out. More than that, there have been only three stagings of the event — and none since 2005 — when all four have made it through their opening matches. And just look at some of the names who have caused massive upsets.
Three years ago England’s Ross McGowan, not even in the world’s top 1,000 now, put out top seed Steve Stricker, while in 2003 Ernie Els — Open champion then as he is again now — was sent packing by New Zealander Phil Tataurangi.
And while Woods is a three-time champion, players who have beaten him include Nick O’Hern (twice), Peter O’Malley, Jeff Maggert, Chad Campbell, Tim Clark, Thomas Bjorn, Nick Watney (in last year’s second round) and Darren Clarke in the 2000 final. Stand by for the possibility of shocks then as McIlroy, Woods, Donald and Oosthuizen get going.
World number one McIlroy, who last month missed the cut in Abu Dhabi in the first week of his mega-money deal with Nike clubs, returns against his former amateur team-mate Lowry.
Woods plays his former Presidents Cup partner Charles Howell, 2011 winner Donald, knocked out by Els in the first round 12 months ago, faces German Marcel Siem and Oosthuizen tackles Scot Richie Ramsay.
For McIlroy it is a first appearance in America since September’s Ryder Cup, where he was part of Europe’s fabulous singles fightback on a day he will also always remember for his mad dash to the course in a state trooper’s patrol car after he blundered over his tee-off time.
Rose has also not played in the States since Medinah, where he memorably beat Mickelson, but he has added to his match play record since then. Two weeks later he was in Turkey for the World Golf Final and took the trophy by beating this week’s defending champion Hunter Mahan, US Open champion Webb Simpson, Woods and Lee Westwood twice.
“I definitely want to ride that wave of momentum. The experience I’ve gained will help me this week,” Rose said. However, Ian Poulter is the one who has most excelled at match play in recent years.
He won this title in 2010, lifted the Volvo World Match Play in Spain the following season and then gave his inspired unbeaten display in Chicago.
Not that Poulter will be underestimating the challenge posed by Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher, winner of the Dubai Desert Classic only three weeks ago, especially as he has not played competitively himself since the first week of January.
The first all-Irish clash is that between Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington. Both of them missed the cut in Los Angeles last week and Harrington has the added pressure of trying to hold on to his place in the world’s top 50 in order to qualify for the next world championship in Miami in a fortnight.
But Lowry beating McIlroy would be much the bigger surprise, and Rose said: “It is not an easy match for Rory. When it’s world number one versus world number 64 (or 68 as it applies to Lowry) it’s almost a free pass. You’re not expected to do anything. You can only be the hero.”