Head-to-head competition in golf might make for lousy TV ratings if blockbuster names don’t make the finals; and, because the tour is fueled and thrives off sponsors’ dollars – it’s just far too risky formatting more tournaments this way. Maybe the singularity of the event helps drive the intrigue. Even without three of the biggest names in golf (and the 2 biggest for sure) – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Adam Scott, there are plenty of compelling story lines to capture and hold our attention this week from the desert.
Especially if you join our Bracket Pool on the home page of our website: southshoregolf.net. I’m not a huge college basketball fan, but whenever I fill out that bracket it keeps me involved.
Here’s a couple tips:
Kiradech Aphibarnrat is a birdie-making machine. He averaged more than 5 birdies a round on the European PGA Tour last season and the only one in the world that averaged more was: Phil Mickelson. Aphibarnrat has perhaps the hottest and arguably the best golfer in the world right now as his first round opponent – Henrik Stenson. But, if Henrik thinks his first overall seeding will protect him from succumbing to a sluggish start – he just might have another birdie coming.
The Bomber Bracket. The Sam Snead bracket is jam-packed with a who’s who list of the world’s biggest hitters: Gary Woodland, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, and Keegan Bradley. Not to mention Matsuyama who might not come to your casual fan’s mind as a long hitter but stay tuned – he can hang with the big dogs. If there was ever a giant slayer among them; a man who could use his wedge game and putting prowess to offset his opponent’s devastating long game, it would be Zach Johnson. But, I have him losing in the Snead Bracket Final to length – in the form of Dustin Johnson. I know Zach won the Masters a few years ago by laying up on every par five, but that will not work in this format out in the desert. The bigger gun’s gonna take this shootout (at least at that stage of the tourney).
There might just be a bomber showdown in the Bobby Jones Bracket between the most successful International teammates from last year’s President’s Cup. If they win their first two respective matches, Jason Day and Graham DeLaet will meet in round three. I expect that to be one of the most exciting matches of the whole tournament. They both have fiery demeanors out there on the course, especially in match play. The Jones Bracket is where I have Aphibarnrat upsetting Stenson in the first round. But I think the winner of the Day/ DeLaet match is going to face Webb Simpson (if he can sneak by Snedeker’s putter) in the Jones Bracket Final. I like Simpson to win it all. His U.S. Open win two years ago at San Fran’s Olympic Club was no fluke.
The only thing to stop the 2013 U.S. Open Champ (Justin Rose) from meeting the 2012 U.S. Open Champ (Simpson) in the final this year is – last year’s WGC Accenture Match Play winner, Matt Kuchar. I expect Kuchar to edge Rose in the Gary Player Bracket Final, which was the most difficult bracket for me to pick. Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth are each a great pick to win it all. There’s also the fiery Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal who lit it up in the final round in Abu Dhabi to finish 1 shot ahead of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson. Two weeks later, Stephen Gallacher successfully defended his title in Dubai where he was paired the first two rounds with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Rory has returned to form. He snuck in a 2013 win in Australia to salvage an otherwise sub-par year. He has looked like the talented young superstar that has won 2 majors by a combined 16 shots. All he needs is a big win for the golf world to re-anoint him. It could easily be his tournament come Sunday, but I have Simpson taking him out in the Semi-Finals before going on to take the title and the stylish WGC trophy.
Besides Aphibarnrat taking Stenson out in the first round, my other big upset is Rickie Fowler taking out match play guru Ian Poulter also in the first round. I have Fowler making an attention grabbing surge, winning his first three matches, leaving not only Poulter, but a resurgent Sergio Garcia in his wake, only to go on and lose to the chosen one – McIlroy in the Hogan Bracket Final.