Lake Nona crew stakes claim to Match Play

Graeme McDowell during Tuesday practice for the PGA Tour's 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz.

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MARANA, Ariz. – In need of a new home for this WGC-Accenture Match Championship? Some might respectfully submit Lake Nona as a candidate.

“I think it would have made travel a lot easier,” said Henrik Stenson.

A sly grin broke out – and for good reason. In preparing for what is either the first or second World Golf Championship of the season, depending on which tour you call home (the WGC-HSBC Champions in October counts as a 2013-14 PGA Tour event but not as a 2014 European Tour event), Stenson was camped out on the range at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.

He wasn’t alone, either. Fellow Match Play competitors Graeme McDowell, Gary Woodland and Peter Hanson were there, too. As for those other Lake Nona residents, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, they were prepping their games out at the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

And if you toss in Jamie Donaldson of Wales, who rents a second Poulter-owned home at Lake Nona (“He gets the Mate’s Rate,” said Poulter), it gives the Florida club seven members in the Match Play field. But, of course, moving this event to Lake Nona isn’t a possibility, but these friendships and relationships have led to some great camaraderie in the days building up to this WGC.

McDowell, then ranked 16th, and Woodland, who was No. 55, knew as they hit balls on the week after the Waste Management Phoenix Open that they would have been paired against each other. “We laughed about it,” Woodland said. “But we just both figured that it would change (come the official deadline a week later).”

And it did, too. But because their movements (McDowell jumped from 16 to 15; Woodland dropped from 55 to 56) when combined with three withdrawals (Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson) produced another draw that had the Lake Nona boys paired against each other, they had no choice but to laugh.

“Back East, I hang out with (McDowell) more than I hang out with anybody,” said Woodland, who discovered that he’s slotted to play McDowell in Round 1, the 19th match of the day.

And just when did Woodland hear the news? As he was about to board a private jet Sunday night in Orlando with McDowell and Stenson.

“It's good or bad playing your friends," Stenson said. He shrugged, not knowing the answer, but looking at it philosophically. “You’re probably going to bump into one of your good friends at some stage when you’re playing a tournament like this. It doesn’t really matter. It’s all how you play. It’s good fun, no matter what.”

Poulter left no doubt as to where he stands. Playing against a fellow Lake Nonan would be easier. “It’s really easy (because) he’s trying to take your skin, and you’re trying to take his skin.”

Friend that McDowell may be, and as great a jet ride that they may have enjoyed Sunday night, Woodland knows what he’s in for come Wednesday morning.

“He’s obviously a great match-play player,” said Woodland, whose record in this tournament is a one-and-out appearance in 2012. “But I’m excited. I’m playing well. I know what he does. I know he drives the ball in play and he’s going to make a lot of putts. So I’ve got to go out and make birdies.”

Woodland seconds Poulter’s opinion, too, especially since the diabolical, funky and bizarre greens complexes of The Golf Club at Dove Mountain can get you in a foul mood quickly. The challenge is to remain positive, “and I think it’s easier to do that when you’re playing a buddy,” Woodland said.

Of course, in this case, McDowell and Woodland might have something more on the line. Because they live a few homes apart on the same street inside the Lake Nona complex, “whoever wins gets to rename the street for the year,” Woodland said.

Oh, and there’s this: McDowell is part owner of Nona Blue, a popular restaurant a mile from Lake Nona.

“I need the VIP card,” Woodland said. “That’s what I keep asking for. I go up there more than anybody.”

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