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Expect this to be wild week at Match Play

By Doug Ferguson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 18 2013 11:57 p.m. MST

MARANA, Ariz. — Bring together the top 64 players in the world and no one knows what to expect.

Especially at the Match Play Championship.

Hunter Mahan, the defending champion, was asked Monday to list the top three players who have the best reputation in this format. He made logical choices in Luke Donald, Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter.

Donald, who won this event in 2011, has a magnificent short game and can produce the kind of shots that change momentum in a match. Poulter, the star of just about every Ryder Cup he plays, has such a strong self-belief that he can will his way to wins, as he did at Dove Mountain in 2010. And Tiger, well, is Tiger.

"Just a great player and he doesn't like to lose," Mahan said.

Before anyone pencils in a bracket that puts those three players in the semifinals, consider recent history.

Donald was No. 1 in the world and lost in the first round a year ago. Poulter hasn't made it beyond the opening round since he won the Match Play Championship.

Woods, the only back-to-back winner of this World Golf Championship, hasn't made it out of the second round since his last win in 2008.

The brackets are set up like they are in other sporting events, whether it's a Grand Slam event in tennis or the NCAA basketball tournament. The difference in golf is that over 18 holes, there's not much to separate No. 1 from No. 64.

It all starts to unfold Wednesday on The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, a Jack Nicklaus design that features massive slopes on the greens and might not be much fun to play if not for the format of match play.

Rory McIlroy is the No. 1 seed and takes on Shane Lowry in the first of two matches between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Graeme McDowell faces Padraig Harrington in the opening round. Woods opens against Charles Howell III, while Poulter faces Stephen Gallacher of Scotland.

Most of the players arrived Monday for practice or to see the golf course.

All of them would like to stick around as long as possible.

"If you get to the weekend, it's one of the most fun weeks of the year," Geoff Ogilvy said last week. "If you lose the first round, it feels like the worst week of the year."

Ogilvy failed to qualify for the first time since he won in 2006 when it was held at La Costa, though he isn't the only one missing. Retief Goosen ended his streak of playing in the Match Play for 13 consecutive years by not being high enough in the world ranking.

The top 66 qualified because Phil Mickelson (family) and Brandt Snedeker (sore ribs) are not playing.

As for match play reputations, Justin Rose might be worth part of the conversation. He won an exhibition in Turkey last year that was medal match play.

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