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In print, Tiger meets his match

Feb 24, 2004 7:08 AM

Suddenly golf is interesting without Tiger. Oh, the world’s No. 1 is on the prowl, finishing strong at the Nissan last week to tie for seventh. But there’s so much else to chew upon.

We’ll credit The Golf Channel for this one: Who’s the best left-handed golfer Phil Mickelson or Mike Weir? Not easy to answer. No doubt Canadians favor Weir, and his two straight Nissan Open victories plus a Masters title do carry a lot of clout. Mickelson came out of the blocks strong this year as well.

We may know more after this week at the Accenture Match Play Championships at luscious LaCosta Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. Woods is the defending champion, in fact he currently owns all four jugs in the yearwide competition that begins Wednesday with the NCAA-tournament type brackets.

The 64 players are seeded in golf’s version of March Madness, with No. 1 seed Woods opening against No. 64 John Rollins in one of Wednesday’s 16 first-round matches. Ernie Els, who would have been seeded No. 2, is out due to family considerations and Jim Furyk is sidelined with a bad wrist. Otherwise 62 of the world’s 64 are competing.

Another storyline not involving Tiger is the 30 pounds shed by Darren Clarke, the only golf besides Woods to have won at least two Accenture world championship events. Clarke is making a full run at the PGA Tour this year and is in the best shape of his life. He has won the match play and is seeded No. 3 in the Sam Snead bracket. Clarke faces No. 14 seed Eduardo Romero in a classic European matchup.

The Accenture match play is broken down into four brackets (Jones, Hogan, Player and Snead) with the seeds ranging from 1 to 16. Woods is tops in the Jones, with Rollins at the bottom). The other No. 1 seeds are Weir, Davis Love III and Vijay Singh.

Speaking of Singh, he’s got a bit to prove this week after consecutive tired efforts at San Diego and the LA Nissan Open.

By the way, another storyline on the PGA Tour involves the "other" event going on this week, the Tucson Open. Seems some guy named John Daly is playing. Now that may not have meant much last month, but Tucson is now doing jumping jacks after the Michelin Man finished first and fourth in his last two events.

Daly will be a huge attraction this week and, with almost all the world’s best at Carlsbad, could make a mark for next season with a second title in three weeks. Ryder Cup, the majors, Kapalua and the four Accenture big money events suddenly look very promising for Big John.

Las Vegas books were feverishly working on the odds Monday afternoon for both events, but we can at least set up the first round matchups at Carlsbad and offer some opinions.

BOBBY JONES

Woods (1) over Rollins (14): Not likely Tiger would lose in first round, but it’s happened before. No way we’re betting against El Tigre.

Maruyama (9) over Immelman (8): Trevor is one of rising corps of South Africans, but Maruyama is really tough in match play and almost won at L.A.

Hoch (13) over Bjorn (4): The 4 vs 13 upset special applies here too. Hoch will treat this like Presidents Cup and flourish.

F. Jacobson (5) over P. Price (12): Another matchup of Euros. Jacobson is no Swedish meatball. He’s a player.

Toms (2) over Fasth: The LSU product is off to a slow start, but we’ll go with form at least for one round.

Micheel (10) over Casey: For those who thought Micheel was a fluke at PGA, look again. He’s been playing very well of late.

Izawa (14) over Harrington (3): Haven’t heard much from Harrington, which gives hope to unheralded Izawa to pull upset.

Verplank (6) over Estes (11): Like Micheel, Verplank has had some good results so far. Estes too inconsistent.

BEN HOGAN

Weir (1) over Beem (16): Little David walks through Goliath, especially off last week’s effort at Nissan.

Leaney (8) over Funk (9): Leaney can be a sleeper here. Funk may take him lightly.

Montgomerie (13) over N. Price (4): Monty comes to the fore in match play over struggling Nick. UPSET SPECIAL.

Cink (12) over Choi (5): Steady Stewart wins out here.

Goosen (2) over Huston (15): Again, a matter of consistency. Weather not hot enough for Huston.

Lonard (7) over Mediate (10): Just can’t take a chance with Rocco’s back. Lonard is good.

Kaye (3) over Waldorf (14): If Duffy is healthy, he can pull off the upset. But, we’re siding with JK.

Riley (6) over Poulter (13): Riley all the way and thinking rematch with Tiger.

GARY PLAYER

Singh (1) over Katayama (16): Shingo is a cowboy, but Singh is too much horse to handle.

Garcia (9) over Kelly (8): Sergio surges to the front at LaCosta, where he has had much success.

Campbell (4) over Herron (13): Chad wins with comfort.

Haas (5) over Roberts (12): Still some good golf left in J-bird.

K.Perry (2) over Sluman (15): Upset possibility, but we’ll go with KP.

Flesch (10) over Faxon (7): Flesch playing the better golf.

Clarke (3) over Romero (14): Darren will be focused on this event.

Leonard (6) over Cejka (11): Leonard up for these international matchups.

SAM SNEAD

Baird (16) over Love III (1): You can’t accuse us of not taking a shot. Baird off a nice Nissan and Love has done nothing this year. Worth nice underdog price.

Couples (9) over Tway (8): Freddie likes match play and will be a threat. Look at Skins Game success.

Allenby (4) over Davis (13): Allenby, the Aussie, moves on.

Scott (5) over Jimenez (12): Scott, another Aussie, even better than Allenby.

Mickelson (2) over Westwood (15): Interesting matchup, but Phil has the definite edge in the Desert.

Howell (7) over Curtis (10): Now Curtis does have something to prove on the world scene after U.S. Open win. Howell very dangerous.

Appleby (3) over Rose (14): Don’t think Rose has played enough Desert golf to pull the upset. Appleby is solid.

Campbell (11) over DiMarco (6): Campbell has played enough in New Zealand to handle Desert courses. This event suits him.