We're planting a seed in the desert

February, 15, 2010

After spending much of his career as the underappreciated PGA Tour journeyman, Steve Stricker finds himself in an unfamiliar position this week as the overall No. 1 seed at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. The high ranking is an unlikely scenario for the 2001 winner of this event -- when he was the 55th seed overall and the 13th seed in his bracket.

Trivia question

Steve Stricker is the top overall seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. How many times has the top seed failed to advance to the "final four" of the event? (Answer below.)

Stricker is just the fourth different No. 1 seed all time in the tournament: Ernie Els held the distinction in 2001, Vijay Singh in 2005 and Tiger Woods nine different times. Tiger is the only No. 1 seed to win, doing so three times.

Golf fans know that this isn't the NCAA tournament when it comes to low seeds advancing deep into the tournament. At the Match Play, very low seeds often advance and a few have won the whole thing.

• There have been more winners of this tournament from overall seeds of 14 or worse (six) than of better than 14 (five).

• As many overall seeds of 50 or higher (3) have won the event as No. 1 seeds.

• A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, yet the equivalent of a No. 16 won this tournament in 2002: Kevin Sutherland was the 62nd-seeded golfer in the event when he was victorious.

• The "Final Four" of the event has represented this trend as well. Last year, only one overall top-10 seed, No. 8 Geoff Ogilvy, made the final four. Since 2005, there have been 15 double-digit overall seeds in the final four, and just five single-digit overall seeds.

• Three different times in the event's history, every seed in the final four has been 20th or lower most recently in 2006, when -- guess who -- 52nd seed Ogilvy won.

Speaking of Ogilvy, the defending champion enters this event with a 17-2 career record in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. In just four career starts in the event, he's ascended to fifth on the career wins list. Two of the four men ahead of him on the list, Woods and Davis Love III, are not in the field this year.

The only other multiple champion of this event is Woods, who has won the tournament three times. While Woods has been the overall top seed for each victory, Ogilvy has taken distinctively different routes. Ogilvy won as the eighth seed last year, and as the 52nd seed in 2006. He enters this week as the No. 10 seed overall and will face Alexander Noren of Sweden in the first round.

Regardless of who wins, golf fans can only hope the event is as closely played as the other tournaments so far this year on tour. Five of the first six events of the year have been decided by 1 stroke, and the only one that wasn't -- Steve Stricker's win at Riviera -- was decided by 2.

Compare that to 2009, when just three of the first six events were decided by 2 shots or less. Tournaments have been decided by a combined total of 10 more shots through six events last year than this year.

With his win last week, Dustin Johnson might have ascended to the top of the "young guns" pack among Americans on the PGA Tour. Johnson, who is just 25, became the first player since Woods to win in his first three seasons on the PGA Tour (a note -- Retief Goosen joined the PGA Tour in 2001 after winning the U.S. Open, and subsequently won the next two seasons).

Johnson is the second American currently in his 20s to have three or more PGA Tour victories. Sean O'Hair, 27, has won three times -- the '04 John Deere, '08 Transitions and '09 Quail Hollow. Australian Adam Scott (six wins) is the only other player in his 20s with three or more PGA Tour wins.

Johnson joined a collection of great names as back-to-back winners at Pebble Beach. The others to do it: Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Mark O'Meara. Sam Snead also won the event in back-to-back years, but it was before the tournament was held at Pebble.

Since 1936, there have been nine occasions in the United States when a major championship was contested on a course that also hosted a PGA Tour event that same season. Woods (2000 and 2008), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Ben Hogan (1948) are the only players to win both the PGA Tour event and the major championship that were held on the same course in the same year. Johnson will try to join this amazing list later this year.

The play of David Duval was one of the great stories of this past weekend, as he posted four rounds in the 60s and finished tied for second. Duval of course also finished T-2 at last year's U.S. Open, but before then hadn't even finished in the top 10 since 2002.

The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was Duval's first event with four rounds in the 60s at a 72-hole event since the 2001 Buick Challenge when he lost in a playoff to Chris DiMarco. Duval did open with four rounds in the 60s at the 2002 Bob Hope Classic and 2002 Invensys Classic at Las Vegas, 90-hole events. At the Hope he closed with a 70 and in Las Vegas, Duval posted a final-round 71.

It seems like ages ago when Duval was the world's No. 1 golfer and the apparent top challenger to an era owned by Woods. From 1997 to 2001, Duval won 13 times on the PGA Tour, and finished in the top 10 in 47 of 112 events (or about 42 percent of the time). He made the cut in more than 85 percent of his PGA Tour starts.

Trivia answer

Question: Steve Stricker is the top overall seed this week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. How many times has the top seed failed to advance to the "final four" of the event?

Answer: Six times in 11 years, including last year, when Tiger Woods was eliminated in the second round by Tim Clark.

Duval's been winless since then, and has finished in the top 10 just four times since '02 -- or 2.7 percent of the time. His cuts made percentage -- 34.9 -- is lower than the top-10 percentage he enjoyed in his prime.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008, and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." He is a 2007 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he studied convergence media. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.



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