One of the coolest event's on the PGA Tour takes place this week in Marana, Ariz., at Dove Mountain - the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Luke Donald is the defending champion and this was the event in 2011 that set the wheels in motion for the Englishman's historic season, where he won the money-title on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
Dove Mountain PGA Head Professional Jeff McCormick is extremely excited about the week ahead, one that begins on Wednesday, a day earlier than most.
McCormick provided a few names we should keep an eye on this week, pointed out his favorite hole at Dove Mountain and explained to us an awesome new feature put in place for this year's event called, "Follow the Leaders."
PGA.com: Good morning, Jeff. It's a pleasure to have you back for a quick chat this year. Before we get started, I have to admit -- I went back to last year's interview and noticed something you said really stood out. He told me that you really loved Charl Schwartzel's game because, "He has one of the most fundamentally sound golf swings and possesses that stoic South African demeanor." He didn't make it through the second round at the Match Play, but he did go on to win a little tournament called the Masters. So, based on that analysis, who can we expect big things from -- possibly a Match Play victory or major -- this season since you're clearly an expert!?
McCormick: That was quite a finish by Schwartzel at Augusta, wasn't it?
A broken clock is right twice a day... I don't know if I can narrow it down to one, so here are my three for the 2012 Accenture Match Play Championship: Bo Van Pelt is my dark horse. Ranked No. 33 in the World Golf Rankings, he is an ultra consistent player, makes a ton of cuts and has the potential to outlast his opponents.
I'm going to stay on the Kyle Stanley bandwagon as well. I thought he showed incredible toughness overcoming what happened in San Diego to come back and win in Phoenix. He obviously doesn't get rattled by much and the match play format lends itself to someone who can take a punch, which fits Stanley perfectly.
I, along with most golf enthusiasts, am waiting for Rickie Fowler to break out and I think he has a good chance at this event. His victory against Mickelson last year was nothing short of spectacular. He closed the match with a chip in birdie on No. 10, an eagle on No. 11, a solid par on No. 12 and a perfect 4-iron to a foot on the par 5, 13th to have another eagle conceded to go 5 under through his last four holes.
PGA.com: Your defending champion is Luke Donald, currently the No. 1-ranked player in the world. His victory a year ago at Dove Mountain really put things in motion for his best season to date. How satisfying is it to see your tournament winner perform so well even after the Match Play victory? And, how much do you think that win boosted Luke's confidence for the season ahead?
McCormick: It is satisfying in the sense that the format and the design of the golf course really showcase the overall ability of the Champion each year, which I believe is exactly what Mr. Nicklaus had in mind. It seems that the player with the hottest short game has done very well here and I am sure that this year will be no exception. Mr. Donald mentioned last Monday that his victory at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain was where it all started for him in 2011 and he was able to carry his focus, determination and execution throughout the year on both the PGA and European Tours.
PGA.com: I know that the staff at Dove Mountain is always making improvements to ensure customers the best experience possible. Also, their feedback, as well as that of the PGA Tour players, is very important to you. What's it like when you receive that positive feedback from players?
McCormick: The positive feedback from the players, the PGA Tour and Accenture is crucial because they have such a global audience. Their positive comments further validate all of the hard work and processes put in place by our ladies and gentlemen. We are in business to create memorable experiences for all of our guests and provide a sound return on investment to our owners and certainly embrace the opportunity and the challenge on a daily basis
PGA.com: I noticed a new fan enhancement you guys will be incorporating this year, where fans will be able to follow along in the fairways behind the Championship Match. It sounds like that will be an incredible experience for folks to get even closer to the action. Can you talk a little about it?
McCormick: The, 'Follow the Leaders,' program will be a welcomed addition to the already unique format of the Accenture Match Play Championship. The patrons will be able to go inside the ropes and walk literally in the footsteps of the final group on Sunday. This program will enhance the patron experience and should make for terrific television coverage.
PGA.com: Final question, Jeff. What's your favorite hole out there and why?
McCormick: That's a tough one. I think I will have to go with the long par 4, No. 10. It's easily the best driving hole on the course with bunkers squeezing both sides of the fairway and usually plays into the prevailing west wind. Depending on which tees the players start from, they are left with a mid-iron into the largest green on the course.