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The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship gets underway Wednesday. The best part of the tournament is the potential matchups it can create. Friends can turn foes. Old rivalries can be rekindled. Here’s some potential matches I’d like to see later in Match Play week:
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• Rory McIlroy vs. Rickie Fowler: They’ve been linked since they were on opposing sides at the 2007 Walker Cup. Their resumes can’t be compared, but they’re still two of the game’s young stars. McIlroy owns as many majors as Fowler does pro titles, but it is interesting that McIlroy was runner-up in both Fowler’s victories (2012 Wells Fargo, 2011 Korea Open).
• Dustin Johnson vs. Graeme McDowell: This match would pit two of the main characters from the 2010 U.S. Open against each other. Johnson was the 54-hole leader before a final-round 82, while McDowell walked away as the champion.
• Bubba Watson vs. Jim Furyk: Watching the improvisational Watson play the calculating Furyk would be an interesting study in contrasts.
• Charl Schwartzel vs. Jason Day: Schwartzel birdied the final four holes to overtake Day and Adam Scott at the 2011 Masters. A victory in the Match Play’s second round would be little consolation for Day, but their showdown would give us an opportunity to relive that exciting Sunday at Augusta National. Schwartzel also could face another former Masters champ, Zach Johnson, in the second round. Schwartzel will have to get by Russell Henley in the first round to set up these potential matches, though.
• Louis Oosthuizen vs. Branden Grace: Oosthuizen was the latest in a long line of South African major champions when he won the 2010 Open Championship. Many expect Grace, 24, to continue their country’s major lineage. This match would pit a present South African star against a player who may be the country’s Next Big Thing.
• Sergio Garcia vs. Matt Kuchar: These two faced off in the quarterfinals of the 1998 U.S. Amateur, with Garcia winning, 2 and 1. Kuchar was the defending champion, while Garcia was about a year away from his runner-up finish at the 1999 PGA at Medinah. They conceded each other par putts of approximately 7 feet on the fifth hole of their match, a rare “good-good” concession. It seems unlikely that such generous concessions would be made Thursday, but it would be fun to see.
• Tiger Woods vs. Francesco Molinari: Could there be some bad blood between these two? They were in the 18th fairway when Martin Kaymer holed a putt that clinched last year’s Ryder Cup for Europe. Woods was 1 up, but eventually gave Molinari a 4-foot par putt that allowed the Italian to halve the match and Europe to win, 14 1/2-13 1/2 (as defending champions, Europe only needed to tie to retain the Cup). Some questioned why, with the Cup decided, the Europeans didn’t concede the final match to Woods. The Europeans wanted to try to halve that match so they could win the Cup outright, though. “I stood there thinking, ‘Why isn’t over? Why isn’t it good-good?’ What were we playing for?” U.S. captain Davis Love III said. It was the second consecutive time Woods and Molinari faced off in Ryder Cup singles. Molinari was 1 up after eight holes in their 2010 match, but Woods played the next seven holes in 7 under to win the match, 4 and 3.
• Jason Dufner vs. Hunter Mahan: Both won twice on the PGA Tour in 2012. This potential matchup of American stars could be one of the second round’s strongest.
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ROUND OF 16
• Rory McIlroy vs. Graeme McDowell: Good friends from Northern Ireland turn foes with a trip to the quarterfinals on the line.
• Bubba Watson vs. Charl Schwartzel: The Florida Swing, which gets underway next week, is when minds start turning to Augusta. What better way to get us excited about Augusta National than to watch the past two Masters champions face off?
• Bubba Watson vs. Russell Henley: Two former Georgia Bulldogs would face off here. One is a major champion, while another is a rising star who opened his rookie season with a Sony Open victory. This one would be big in SEC country.
• Louis Oosthuizen vs. Ernie Els: This third-round match could be a role reversal for Oosthuizen. He’d be the elder statesman in a potential second-round match with Branden Grace. Oosthuizen could face his mentor, Ernie Els, in a third-round match of South African major champions.
• Luke Donald vs. Steve Stricker: Still haven’t realized how important the short game is? Just watch this match.
• Adam Scott-Ian Poulter: Not only is this match big in star power, but also pits two players on opposite sides of the tracks when it comes to anchoring.
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• Rory McIlroy vs. Charl Schwartzel: The World No. 1 faces one of the world’s hottest players. Schwartzel has finished no worse than third in his last six worldwide starts, including two victories.
• Keegan Bradley vs. Sergio Garcia: Bradley won his first start in a major. Garcia is still without one.
• Robert Garrigus vs. Nicolas Colsaerts: I went to a quarterfinal match and a long-driving contest broke out.
• Tiger Woods vs. Hunter Mahan: The defending champion would face the 14-time major champ in a matchup of Sean Foley stablemates.
• Luke Donald vs. Ian Poulter: Two Englishmen who are former champions at Dove Mountain could face off in the quarterfinals. The next question: which will be first to win a major?
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• Rory McIlroy vs. Keegan Bradley: A good matchup of young major champions.
• Bubba Watson vs. Louis Oosthuizen: A rematch of last year’s Masters playoff, won by Watson.
• Louis Oosthuizen vs. Charl Schwartzel: They grew up friends and the sons of farmers from South Africa. Schwartzel almost got to slip the green jacket on his good friend’s shoulders last year. They’re also two of the hottest players in the game.
• Lee Westwood vs. Luke Donald: This match would pit two Englishmen who’ve held the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Ranking. Donald took the No. 1 ranking from Westwood by beating him in a playoff at the 2011 BMW PGA Championship.
• Tiger Woods vs. Ian Poulter: The two have an interesting history, mainly because of Poulter’s sound bytes.
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• Rory McIlroy vs. Tiger Woods: Would you want it any other way?