Westwood and the world's best primed for some major match-ups in Arizona

By Derek Lawrenson for the Daily Mail

The best event in golf outside the four major championships and the Ryder Cup? You have got to admire players like Padraig Harrington, who stick to their roots and opt for their own national Open - and have every sympathy for those advocates of the Players' Championship, held in Florida each May.

But what event other than this week's Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Arizona, has scribes looking ahead more than a week in advance and excitedly working out the permutations as to who will play against whom in the first round?

Plenty to ponder: Westwood faces a tough opening match against former champion Stenson

Plenty to ponder: Westwood faces a tough opening match against former champion Stenson

What other opening day compares remotely with this one, where no fewer than 10 Europeans will go head to head against 10 Americans tomorrow in the first matchplay event staged since the Ryder Cup?

The world's top 64 players are invited and the only player who will not be here is No 64, Toru Taniguchi. Which, in turn, is bad news for No 1 Lee Westwood.

Instead of a straightforward-looking match against a Japanese player with little form outside his homeland, he now plays the 65th-ranked player, who just happens to be a former winner, Henrik Stenson.

This was the event that, 12 months ago, provided English golf with its proudest moment since Sir Nick Faldo's last Masters victory in 1996, as Ian Poulter defeated Paul Casey in the final. Now, Poulter has a very awkward-looking first-round opponent in former Open champion and demon putter Stewart Cink.

Another evocative Europe versus America clash features Tiger Woods against in-form Thomas Bjorn, 10 years after the Dane won an epic clash between the two in Dubai.

An outside bet? How about the Scot Martin Laird, who lives in Arizona and is playing nicely? Mind you, his first-round opponent is the Italian Edoardo Molinari, who can putt anyone into submission on his day, so Laird might be back home come on Wednesday night.

Such is the glorious uncertainty that makes this event a joy.


There will assuredly come a time when Matteo Manassero will stop making records as the youngest player to achieve a given feat but, gratifyingly for fans of the engaging 17-year-old Italian, that time is not upon us yet.

This week, the youngest player to win a European Tour event, youngest to win the British Amateur and youngest to complete all four rounds at the Masters adds to his remarkable list by becoming the youngest to compete in one of the four World Championship events.

In an intriguing match-up, his first-round opponent will be the wily American Steve Stricker, on his 44th birthday.

Manassero is presently ranked 57th in the world, and needs to climb into the top 50 to make it back to Augusta. Stricker beware.


So was this guy a bandit then?

Raconteur: Nick Stewart

It's always a pleasure to be seated at lunch next to the golfing raconteur and Tom Watson chaperone, Nick Stewart (right). In another life, he gave a rock band called U2 their big break and, I think we can agree, they did rather well for themselves.

In between taking phone calls from the band's manager, Paul McGuinness, Nick told a couple of belting stories, the best of which I am going to reserve for Open week in July at Royal St George's, where he happens to be a member of long standing.

The other concerned his recent appearance on Mastermind. Asked to present three topics for consideration as his specialist subject, Nick went for the novels of Charles Dickens, the films of Michael Mann, and the life of the 11-time major champion and celebrated bon viveur, Walter Hagen.

'This last fellow,' enquired the less-than-brilliantly-researched researcher. 'Did he make his name as a World War One fighter pilot?'


Quote of the week

'Most of the past champions love beef, so my plan is to offer them a trio of beef dishes.'

Masters champion Phil Mickelson reveals the menu he has chosen for the Champions dinner held at Augusta on the Tuesday of tournament week. Do we think it safe to assume his dalliance with vegetarianism last year is now at an end?

You still eating your greens, Phil? Last year's Masters champion Mickelson (right)

You still eating your greens, Phil? Last year's Masters champion Mickelson (right)


It's quite possible my journalist antennae have got scrambled on this but, when asked to gauge the enthusiasm of the professional tours on the re-entry of golf into the 2016 Olympics, I've always thought it lukewarm at best.

Underneath professing undiluted delight for the project being driven by the governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, I think the European and US Tours have quietly dreaded the prospect of working a fortnight in Rio in the first two weeks of August into an already overcrowded schedule.

Such fears would appear to have been realised to judge by the initial framework that has been thrashed out, with all four major championships currently pencilled in to take place before the third week in July.

How crazy is that?