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On the Tee: Accenture Match Play Championship

by | CBSSports.com Senior Golf Columnist
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Nicklaus' course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club is picturesque, but players aren't so enthused. (Getty Images)  
Nicklaus' course at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club is picturesque, but players aren't so enthused. (Getty Images)  

Everything you need to know about the Accenture Match Play Championship:

Nuts and bolts

Hole by hole | Past champions | Expert Picks | TV: 2-6 ET Sat., 2-6 ET Sun.

Defending the throne

It bears repeating. In this peculiar format, every hole can feel like a tournament in itself. Every opponent is akin to the entire field.

Small wonder the world's reigning No. 1, Luke Donald, is the defending champion at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

"I certainly enjoy the challenge of one on one," said Donald, who beat Germany's Martin Kaymer in the 36-hole final last year. "It's a tough challenge it's a tough format, because you can have days that you play well and go home. I think all of the players really enjoy that difference.

"Match play, you know, different strategies, different feelings, every match you feel like it's do or die. You feel like you're teeing it up with the last group on Sunday in the match. That makes it exciting for the players too."

At times in the past, Donald had wobbled when faced with the opportunity to win -- he hadn't claimed a victory in the States in five years. But overnight snow and a mid-round hail storm didn't slow him down this time, and before year's end, he had become the first player to top both major money lists in the same year.

As testament to his steady style, Donald has played in the Accenture event seven times and has never been kicked to the curb on the first day. No other player with at least that many starts is undefeated on Wednesdays.

Venue and you

Calling the Dove Mountain resort remote doesn't do the term justice. Located about 30 miles outside Tucson and perched in the mountains, the course has an altitude of between 2,300 and 3,200 feet. The cost of the Nicklaus "signature" course might make you a little light-headed too. Starting after the tournament concludes, prices range from around $130 and up on the 27-hole venue. To narrow your playing options and dial in your exact price, check out the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain site.

Track and field

The event, by design, annually pits the top 64 players from the previous week's world ranking, injuries and other variables aside. This year, Phil Mickelson elected not to play and Paul Casey had to withdraw because of injury, leaving Ernie Els at No. 68 as the lowest-ranked man in the field. In all, the event has 49 of the top 50, which is actually one more than in 2011.

Three whacks from short range

 There were always grumblings, but this was shocking. There's no other way to put it. The Dove Mountain course was designed by Jack Nicklaus with match play specifically in mind, but the venue has been mostly panned by players. In GolfWorld's recent survey of tour players, the 7,800-yard track ranked 51st out of 52 courses listed in a player ranking of current tour venues. Most of the criticism relates to the extreme undulations on the greens. Moreover, pulling the right club at 3,000 feet of elevation, when the weather can span a 40-degree gamut in a given day, isn't easy either.

 These guys put the Win in Wednesday. Defending champion Luke Donald is 7-0 in first-round matches, the best mark of any player in event history with at least that many starts. David Toms, another past champion, is 9-1 in opening matches. Three-time champion Tiger Woods is 9-2 in first round play after losing in extra holes to Thomas Bjorn last year. Adjust your brackets accordingly.

 Was last year a fluke or the beginning of a breakout crop of eye-to-eye notables? First-timers Jason Day, Matteo Manassero and Rickie Fowler -- all in their 20s or younger -- finished T9 last year while fellow event rookie Bubba Watson was fourth. With the caprices of match play, the odds are equally good of them all being sent home on day one this time around.

Odds and evens

Odds on winning, via Golfodds.com and the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino: Rory McIlroy 10/1; Tiger Woods 12/1; Luke Donald 15/1; Lee Westwood 15/1; Sergio Garcia 20/1; Martin Kaymer 20/1; Adam Scott 25/1; Dustin Johnson 25/1; Jason Day 30/1; Ian Poulter 30/1; Webb Simpson 30/1; Steve Stricker 30/1; Charl Schwartzel 30/1; Bubba Watson 30/1.

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