You can't name a more hyped regular season PGA Tour event ever than the 2009 Accenture Match Play. You can't. It doesn't exist.
A year ago, Marana, Ariz. hosted an event that trumped Tiger Woods' first event as a pro, Annika Sorenstam breaking the gender barrier at Colonial and Michelle Wie teeing it up in her first event with the men. For golfers, last season's match play event was a big, thankful exhale. We had been Tiger-less for too long, and just seeing him with his swoosh hat and crisp polo was what we'd been waiting for since Torrey Pines.
Now here we are again, a year later, back at Dove Mountain, with not just a missing Tiger but a different Tiger. A guy that, no matter when he returns (my money's on Bay Hill), will be encountering a totally different introduction to the golf world. Last year the headlines were full of exclamation marks when speaking of the Woods return. In 2010, there will be only question marks.
Tiger's absense disappoints not only the hosts of the event, but fellow players as well.The match play is a unique event because for any suspense down the stretch, you need names or storylines. Let's be honest, nobody is watching Rory Sabbatini play Paul Casey in the finals. That's one of the reasons that the PGA Championship would never go back to match play, even though it would be awesome to have one major settled with the format. Television stations couldn't deal with the tanking ratings if, say, Chad Campbell and Shaun Micheel ever met up again for the trophy.
With Tiger out, and Phil Mickelson skipping the event for family reasons, the Accenture is stuck with Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Jim Furyk as the top seeds, along with Steve Stricker. The most compelling storyline heading into the event is if someone like Rory McIlroy could win on American soil. That's quite the change from a year ago when snagging a press credential to this event was like winning a trip to the Wonka factory.
The one thing similar to 2009 is the wait for Tiger. No matter all the troubles he's had the past three months, the golf world still doesn't exactly start until Woods is back. He's the top golfer in the world for a reason, and people just don't find it as interesting when he is sitting on the bench.
A year ago it was a knee we were all wondering about. Now, it's something nobody thought we'd ever test Mr. Woods on ... his ability to block things out and just golf. Quite a change from 2009.