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THE WEEK AHEAD (2/18 - 2/24)

All eyes will be on Tucson this week as the world's top 64 players (actually 64 of the top 65 with Brett Wetterich nursing a shoulder injury) battle it out at the WGC Match Play...though a little attention should be paid to the LPGA's Fields Open as well.  Elsewhere, more opportunities for the non-elite to build their portfolios without the big dogs around...


PGA, European, Asian & Australasian Tours:  WGC Accenture Match Play Championship – Marana, AZ

The first of the season’s WGC events, the Accenture Match Play, returns for its 10th edition, this time visiting the South course at The Gallery at Dove Mountain for the second straight year.  The only match play event on the American tour, the Accenture represents an obvious departure from the day-to-day grind of 72 hole medal play – a circumstance perhaps responsible for a rather eclectic group of winners which has included surprises like Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke (who notably defeated Tiger Woods in the 2000 final), Steve Stricker (in his first incarnation) and Kevin Sutherland.  Of course, there have been pedigreed victors as well, for Woods himself is a two-time winner (2003 and ’04), and he was followed by Major champions David Toms (2005) and Geoff Ogilvy (2006).  And then there is defending champion Henrik Stenson, not yet a Major winner but certainly the hottest player in the world when he defeated Ogilvy 2 & 1 in last year’s final.  The 7,351-yard, par-72 South course was designed by John Fought and offers a bit more playing interest than many desert layouts, utilizing the site’s natural elevation changes and drywashes within the target golf concept required by Arizona’s water-oriented limitations on turfed acreage.  That said, like many PGA Tour site decisions, the choice of Dove Mountain was surely more about money than about finding a layout replete with the sort of go-for-it-or-not shotmaking options that can so spice up a match play event.  But even so, watching the 64 best players in the world slug it out in a series of head-to-head encounters represents a different – and generally more engaging – sort of golf altogether.  And besides, one of these years, Woods, Mickelson and Els will all reach the semis, and then things will really get fun…

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PGA Tour:  Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya-Cancun – Quintana Roo, Mexico

With the top 64 players in the world battling in Arizona, the field for the second Mayakoba Classic is predictably light, its highest-ranked player being Australian Peter Lonard (world #65), with #77 Joe Durant, #79 Ryuji Imada and Korea’s Yong-Eun Yang (#117) next in line.  There are, however, several popular former stars to liven things up including Major champions Greg Norman (the course’s architect), Nick Price, Corey Pavin and Lee Janzen, plus the Human Sponsor Exemption, John Daly.  Also playing is defending champion Fred Funk, who’s ’07 playoff victory over Jose Coceres made him, at age 51, only the second man (behind Craig Stadler) ever to win a PGA Tour event after having won on the Champions Tour.  The host course, known as El Cameleon, is a 6,923-yard, par-70 test which winds through tropical jungles and mangrove forests and, on two occasions, emerges along open Caribbean beaches, making an attractive backdrop for what remains, at least with the current schedule, a secondary event.

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Asian Tour:  SAIL Open Golf Championship at Jaypee Greens – Noida, India

The parallels between India’s SAIL Open and the PGA Tour’s Mayakoba Classic are obvious: each is limited to second-field status (due to being scheduled opposite the WGC Match Play event), each offers a smallish purse, and each is played over an out-of-the-way golf course built by Greg Norman’s increasingly active worldwide design firm.   Predictably, however, there is a bit of gap between the fields, with the SAIL boasting only Jyoti Randhawa (#82) ranked among the world top 100, though China’s, Liang Wen-Chong (#101) is close, and recent winner S.S.P. Chowrasia (#164) and Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant (#210) have certainly proven their competitive mettle.  The host club, which anchors a real estate development, is a 7,347-yard, par-72 test which, given a generally flat site, relies largely on water, plus some 88 bunkers, for its challenge.  Big layout, small field - and a real opportunity for the few world-class players present (most notably Liang or Randhawa) to pick up a quick victory.

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Sunshine Tour:  Telkom PGA Championship – Johannesburg, South Africa

The Sunshine Tour arrives in Johannesburg this week for the Telkom PGA Championship, a standard event not to be confused with the venerable Alfred Dunhill (South African PGA) Championship.  Since most of the nation’s elite stars would currently be playing overseas anyway, the effects of the WGC Match Play are less acute here, leaving a field headed by world top 100’s Charl Schwartzel (69), defending champion Louis Oosthuizen (81) and James Kingston (88), as well as 21-year-old European Tour  regular Anton Haig, recent South African Masters winner Marc Cayeux and Order of Merit stalwarts Garth Mulroy (2nd) and Mark Murless (4th).  Play will be conducted over the Country Club of Johannesburg’s Woodmead course, a near-7,500-yard track generally cited for its toughness – but with its last two winning scores being 267 (Gregory Bourdy) and 266 (Oosthuizen), there may not truly be such a thing as “tough” anymore.

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Australasian Tour:  Moonah Classic – Victoria, Australia

The brand-new Moonah Classic is, like last week’s New Zealand PGA, an event co-sponsored with the American Nationwide Tour, limiting its field largely to second-tier players, plus regional stars like Peter Senior, Peter O’Malley, Peter Fowler and Peter – I mean, David Smail.  The biggest item of interest then, may very well be the venue, the Open course at Moonah Links, a high-profile public facility owned by the Australian Golf Union and laid out over rugged dunesland on the Mornington Peninsula.  Built by the legendary champion Peter Thomson and his partner Michael Wolveridge, Moonah is billed as the first links-style stadium course and is, at any rate, of great proportion, its 6,783 metres equating to nearly 7,500 yards of undulating, windblown terrain.

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LPGA:  Fields Open in Hawaii – Honolulu, HI

The LPGA completes its two-week Hawaiian swing with the Fields Open at the Ko Olina Resort where, despite the absence of world number one Lorena Ochoa, interesting storylines abound.  Chief among them is former number one Annika Sorenstam, who last week began her 2008 season with a win at the SBS Open and who, with another victory here, just might begin drawing Ochoa into her sites.  Also present is world number two Suzann Pettersen (herself looking to close a substantial gap with Ochoa), perennial world top 10s Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr, six Parks, seven Kims and Hall-of-Famer Se Ri Pak.  Literally meeting the Tour halfway is a cadre of young Japanese stars led by Ai Miyazato, Momoko Ueda and Sakura Yokomine (the latter on a sponsor’s exemption), and then there is the lone player in the field perhaps able to command more attention than even Sorenstam, Michelle Wie.  The now-18-year-old Wie begins her ’08 season here following an injury-riddled ’07 that she’d surely wish to forget – so where better to re-start than on her home turf?  Though not quite a seaside layout, the Ko Olina Resort course is situated close enough to the coastline to make wind a factor.  The typical Ted Robinson design will be played at 6,519 yards (par 72) and features the usual Robinson staples of modern bunkers generally fanning away from fairways and greens, and water hazards flanked by man-made waterfalls.  With the event’s two previous winners, Meena Lee and Stacy Prammanasudh, each logging 54-hole totals of 14-under-par 202, only particularly strong breezes seem likely to prevent another rush of low scoring.

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Posted on Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 12:56AM by Registered CommenterDaniel in | Comments Off