One of the most intriguing weeks of the golf season is upon us as the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship gets set to tee off in the Arizona desert.
So what matches are our scribes looking most forward to in the first round? We'll go inside the bracket and more in this week's edition of Monday Four-Ball.
1. What's your favorite first-round match(es) at this week's WGC-Match Play?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: I have two favorites. Graeme McDowell versus Padraig Harrington because I imagine the loser buys drinks for the year, which could get expensive. The other match I like is Paul Lawrie versus Scott Piercy. Lawrie is a major winner and Piercy is a guy who won't be shaken just because this is his first WGC event. Should be some serious fireworks.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Charles Howell III versus Tiger Woods in the Gary Player bracket. Howell is dangerous. The 33-year-old Augusta, Ga., native started the season with a T-3, T-2 and T-9. If he can make some putts, he has a good chance of beating Tiger.
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Rory McIlroy-Shane Lowry. The state of McIlroy's game is of great interest as he is playing in just his second tournament of the year. And there is no easing into it against another Irishman, Lowry, who has nothing to lose.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: I'm going with Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher in the 3-14 matchup in the Sam Snead bracket. Gallacher won in recent weeks on the European Tour and Poulter, well, just look at his Ryder Cup record for how he handles match-play situations. Oh, and he won this event on this course back in 2010, so expect another strong run through the bracket for the flashy Brit.
2. What's the most important aspect of playing well in match play?
Michael Collins: Having a very short memory. No matter what you did on the hole before, no matter what your opponent did on the previous hole, you have to be in the present on the next hole. Easier said than done, especially after a bad hole.
Farrell Evans: It's two things. You have to keep the ball in play off the tee and you have to make some putts. Even par is not going to win many matches this week at Dove Mountain.
Bob Harig: Putting. It makes up for so much, and can be discouraging to the opponent. Making longer putts at timely moments turns a possible lost hole into a win many times. It's a far different dynamic than in stroke play.
Kevin Maguire: Mental toughness. When the guy you are playing drains a 40-footer on you for birdie and you've got 5 feet left to halve the hole, that can shake even the best in the game. Toss out the numbers and seedings in the brackets. It's all about the guy teeing it up next to you each day and if you are better than him over that single round.
3. Tiger Woods and President Obama played 18 holes together Sunday. How many shots a side do you think Tiger gave him?
Michael Collins: Ten a side and he probably should've given 15. How much did he beat Rickie Fowler by on Sunday at Memorial last year? The president just started golfing a few years ago and Tiger is getting ready to come to the WGC-Match Play, so his game should be on point. I just wonder what they played for ... maybe Tiger gets an ambassadorship to somewhere awesome!
Farrell Evans: The president is estimated to be somewhere north of a 16 handicap. Tiger could be a plus-10. So given the canyon that exists between their skill levels, Tiger, in the spirit of fast play, probably played his ball against Obama and the two other players in a modified best-ball format.
Bob Harig: The guess here is 11 a side, if they were to play a match. Figure Obama to be a 16 handicap. Tiger would be about a plus-6. That's 22 shots, 11 a side. Would Tiger try to talk him into less?
Kevin Maguire: At first I thought 9 a side. But somehow only a stroke a hole doesn't seem like a fair fight for Tiger, even if Obama could have some help from the trees via the Secret Service, if you know what I mean. I'll go with 12 a side to keep things interesting.
4. With NBA All-Star Weekend now over, it got us thinking ... what could the PGA Tour do in a similar fashion that would captivate fans?
Michael Collins: I don't think anyone wants to watch pro golfers try to dunk, even on 8-foot rims. Wait, what? Ohhhh. The tour did try and do the skills challenge and no one ever wants to play in it. The coolest thing would be to have 50 guys each put up $10,000 of their own money and play a winner-take-all, two-round event with their caddies being required to hit 2 shots per round.
Farrell Evans: The PGA Tour has the four majors and the FedEx Cup playoffs. The NBA has a never-ending playoffs and an All-Star Weekend trying to be like the NFL's Super Bowl week. Golf is doing just fine.
Bob Harig: You'd have to do it at an existing tournament, and perhaps the Players Championship is the venue. There is ampitheater-like seating around the 16th and 17th holes at TPC Sawgrass, and perhaps the Tuesday prior could be turned into something more fun, at least for a few hours. Skipping balls across the water; a closest to the pin contest from the deepest tees at No. 17. A long drive contest from the 17th tee to the 16th fairway. Put it all on TV. And let a few fans participate as well.
Kevin Maguire: Why not a weekly long drive contest that is televised on the Tuesday or Wednesday before each event? Or maybe a skills competition in the same vein as "The Big Break" on Golf Channel? These guys are good, right? Then let them show off in front of the cameras after their pro-am rounds once a week. We don't need 156 guys each tournament, just a handful of golfers having a little fun and showing off some of their personalities, which would only be good for the game.