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Tiger’s not the only big 1st-day story

Citizen Staff Writer



The whole world will be watching Tiger. It’s as if he’s the world’s first human to have reconstructive surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament.

“It is countdown by the minute or second until he hits his first shot,” said Henrik Stenson, the 2007 winner of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Tiger Woods, of course, is the 2008 winner and was last seen in a competitive round in June, when he one-legged his way to the U.S. Open championship.

Accompanied by a blare of trumpets, a release of doves and thunderbolts from the heavens, the world’s No. 1 golfer will return from knee surgery Wednesday at the match play tournament at the new Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana.

He tees off at 12:02 p.m. against Brendan Jones, one of 32 matches on the event’s opening day – one of the grandest golf days of the entire year.

Match play is the inverse of a regular stroke-play event, with the good stuff happening early in the week, and the weekend often reduced to a long, boring slog between a mere handful of competitors.

The top 64 golfers in the world – no exceptions this year – will be on the course Wednesday, and there will be a lot more standing room around those 31 Tiger-free matches.

Keeping in mind that the field is broken up into four NCAA Tournament-like brackets, here are five other matches to watch:

No. 2 seed Phil Mickelson vs. No. 15 Angel Cabrera: Mickelson scuffled in his first three events this year, then scrambled to win last week’s Northern Trust Open with a four-round breakdown that can only be described as classically inconsistent Phil: 63-72-62-72.

Nobody in golf is more fascinating that Mickelson, who, to put it in University of Arizona basketball terms, is Jamelle Horne. You just never know what you’re going to get.

As for Cabrera, you might remember him literally smoking his way around Oakmont on his way to winning the 2007 U.S. Open, but there will be no more butts. He has given up smoking.

No. 5 Adam Scott vs. No. 12 Sean O’Hair: A fine battle of 20-somethings, and don’t discount O’Hair, a Texan with three top 12 finishes in four starts this year.

Golf coach Butch Harmon called Scott “the best player under 30 in the world by far,” a year ago, but the Australian has slipped from third in the world last summer to 18th.

This could be a good spot for an upset. Question is, if you’re on the course, do you have the patience for O’Hair’s typically slow play?

No. 13 Boo Weekley vs. No. 4 Justin Rose: One on side we have an American good ol’ boy with a new clothing line featuring “duck blind” camouflage and abundant use of the color orange. On the other side, we have the English manners of Rose.

It’s either a good first-round match or a sitcom.

Weekley had one of the best news conference moments of last year’s tournament when he talked about hunting.

“It ain’t about the killing. We ain’t going to kill nothing unless we’re going to eat it,” he said, saying he learned that lesson from his great-grandfather.

“I shot a blackbird. Blackbird is awful, dude. You ought to try eating that thing. He made me eat it. He said, ‘If you’re going to shoot this bird, take a life, you need to eat it.’ I brought it right in, plucked the feathers off of it and he stuck it right in the fryer. It ain’t very good, I can tell you that.”

No. 5 Mike Weir vs. No. 12 Hunter Mahan: Mahan, 26, is a member of the last year’s winning U.S. Ryder Cup team and a popular sleeper pick this week.

This pairing is in the top half of the Bobby Jones bracket, with the winner possibly getting 19-year old Irish whiz kid Rory McIlroy in the second round and Tiger Woods in the third round.

No. 5 Steve Stricker vs. No. 12 Dustin Johnson: Johnson, 24, has won two of his past 10 tournaments, including the one at Pebble Beach two weekends ago that boosted his ranking from triple digits and qualified him for match play.

Stricker, who turned 42 Monday, has played well this season, with second-place and third-place finishes.

Either of these guys could navigate a wide-open Hogan Bracket, where No. 1 seed Vijay Singh has struggled coming off knee surgery and No. 2 Mickelson can’t be trusted.

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