It’s golf’s version of the bracket buster

Stewart Cink tees off during the practice round for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

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MARANA, Ariz. – Decisions, decisions.

Do we focus on the Jones bracket or the Hogan?

Does the Player bracket pack more punch than the Snead?

Or is it the Ed Sneed bracket?

WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship

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It’s so hard to keep track when the Accenture Match Play Championship rolls around, though for the competitors, there’s an easy solution.

They don’t pay any attention.

“I just know I’m playing Camilo (Villegas),” Dustin Johnson said.

No one else, though?

Johnson smiled.

“No. All you can do is worry about who you’re playing that day.”

Ah, but he’s a young kid, right? How about a veteran like Jim Furyk. Surely he’s studied the bracket. Hey, he’s a golf fan, right? He wants to look to see who’s playing who, doesn’t he?

Guess again. Furyk said he not only doesn’t look to see who else is playing, but he doesn’t even know in which bracket he’s placed.

“I guess I saw it, but, no, I don’t know,” Furyk said.

For the record, he’s the top seed in the Snead bracket, which historically has been the most volatile.

Or is that the Jones bracket?

Who knows and truly, who cares? Try as they might to manufacture an NCAA basketball mentality to the Accenture when it comes to the brackets, the PGA Tour doesn’t pull it off. You are seeded No. 1 through No. 64, and you simply keep playing till you’ve been beaten. Never is the goal to win your bracket or get to the “Sweet 16” or to the “Final Four.”

Truth be told, “if you’re looking at the brackets to study them, you’re looking at the wrong thing,” Furyk said.

Told that it’s different with the NCAA hoops stuff, Furyk agreed, but only partly. He knows fans gets into the pool business, but doesn’t think coaches and players study the brackets.

“I just don’t think the head coach at the University of Arizona is worried about the brackets and who they could be playing next,” Furyk said.

All of which isn’t to say that there isn’t any interest in bracketology onsite here at Dove Mountain. “I’m sure my caddie (Bobby Brown) knows (who is playing whom). He’s more into that stuff than I am,” Johnson said.

All Johnson said he knows is, he’s playing Villegas, going off in the eighth match of the day. And if things go well there, he’ll be back again Thursday for another match.

Against whom?

Johnson smiled, shrugged his shoulders, which was all the confirmation needed that he didn’t know. For the record, if he were to win Wednesday, Johnson would play the winner of the Geoff Ogilvy-Alexander Noren match.

Whom does Johnson like in that match?

More smiles, more shakes of the head, more proof that it doesn’t matter.

Which apparently makes this question moot, but we’ll ask it anyway: Hey, Dustin, any chance you’d like to fill out a pool sheet?

“No.”

No worries, and totally understandable. Johnson, after all, can win something much bigger than the office brackets pool.

• • • 

You can slice it a hundred ways, but here’s a shining example of how the landscape in professional golf has evened out. When the Accenture Match Play Championship debuted in 1999, the field of 64 included a whopping 40 Americans. So lopsided was it that nearly one-third of the first-round matches (11 of 32) featured American vs. American.

This year, there are but 20 Americans in the field (22 qualified, but Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are not playing) and only three first-round matches will feature a pair of red, white and blue flags: Anthony Kim vs. Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk vs. Scott Verplank and Kenny Perry vs. Brian Gay.

• • • 

Stuart Appleby had been the only player with perfect attendance at this championship – at least until he crashed from view. With his streak ended, no one can say he has played in all 12 of these Accentures, though Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard and Vijay Singh are present for the 11th time.

Those three players are among nine who are here this week and can lay claim to having been present in the first Accenture, 1999. The others: Verplank, Furyk, Ernie Els, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood.

• • • 

One man’s thoughts on the five best matches of the first round:

1) Michael Sim vs. Ryo Ishikawa. Their combined age is 43. Their combined potential is limitless.

2) Mike Weir vs. Alvaro Quiros. You want proof that there are two ways to play this game? Walk along with this match, where the Canadian will on many holes be hitting three or four clubs more into greens.

3) Martin Kaymer vs. Chad Campbell. The German has been on a tear this year and is a popular pick, but take note that Campbell is 11-4 in his four appearances in the Accenture.

4) Ian Poulter vs. Justin Leonard. Simply a great matchup of two players who can manage a golf course and grind it out.

5) Villegas vs. Johnson. For all the notoriety Villegas attracts, Johnson is far more polished and an emerging start who is developing all the shots.

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