Bet on the Arizona big guns

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott may not be in town, but there are still a host of big names contesting this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

The cutthroat nature of the match play golf played ever year at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona, seems to bring out the best in the world’s best.

A quick look at the past champions from the last few years – Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Geoff Ogilvy, Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson – confirms that this is a tournament where banking on outside chances seldom pays off.

The lowest ranked of all those champions was last year’s winner, Matt Kuchar, who was the World No 23 when he beat defending champion Hunter Mahan 2&1 to claim the trophy last year.

In fact, five of the past seven champions were top 10 players, and the safest bet would certainly be backing another big gun to do the same in 2014.

Some brackets look set to be more hotly contested than others, however.

Henrik Stenson is the top seed in the Jones bracket, but despite his 2013 heroics, he is yet to set the world on fire this year, having failed to record a top-20 finish in his three 2014 starts.

The likes of Nick Watney (9) and Brandt Snedeker (4) have all had slow starts to the season as well, while Steve Stricker (3) is making only his first start of 2014.

Second seed Jason Day could well be a serious contender, however. The Australian finished third last year, and has the match play temperament to do well.

And don’t forget about fifth seed Webb Simpson. Prior to his T70 at Riviera last week, Simpson posted seven consecutive top 25s on the PGA Tour. He also reached last year’s quarter-finals in Marana.

The in-form players in the Jones bracket seem to be South African George Coetzee (14), who has jumped nearly 50 places in the world rankings this year after recording top-five finishes in his last three starts – including his maiden European Tour victory at the Joburg Open two weeks ago – and Graham Delaet (6), who has two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour this year already.

In the Hogan bracket, the best bets look to be Jimmy Walker (6), a three-time winner on the PGA Tour already this season, and the resurgent Rory McIlroy (1), runner-up at this event in 2012.

Sergio Garcia (2) is another big name on the rise, with a victory in Europe and two more top-four finishes already under his belt 2014, while Ian Poulter (3), champion at Dove Mountain in 2010, also finds himself in this bracket, and the Englishman’s match play prowess is certainly well known to all.

The Player bracket features some enticing names as well, like up-and-comer Jordan Spieth (3) defending champion Matt Kuchar (2), a match play expert, and top seed Justin Rose.

The likes of Luke Donald (5) and Jason Dufner (4) don’t look too attractive, with neither player producing any serious form of late. Donald was a champion here three years ago, however, and can’t be entirely discounted.

There are a number of players in the Snead bracket with the talent and form to make their presence felt, including top seed Zach Johnson, second seed Dustin Johnson and third seed Bubba Watson, fresh off a victory in the Northern Trust Open and a runner-up the week before.

Eighth seed Hunter Mahan is also in this bracket and with a victory to his name in 2012 and a runner-up finish last year, the American appears to have taken a shine to the tournament.

With so many top players and likely winners in attendance, and considering the oftentimes unpredictable nature of match play golf, picking a WGC-Accenture Match Play champion is no easy task.

Enjoying the multitude of high profile head-to-head match-ups, however, certainly is.