(Potential) Duels in the Desert
By Stephanie Wei under European PGA Tour

Ian Poulter will defend his title at the WGC-Accenture Match Play next week

With the latest Official World Golf Rankings released on Monday after the dust-up in Dubai and the comic theater at Pebble Beach, the top-64 players qualify to enter in the first WGC event of 2011, the Accenture Match Play Championship in Tucson, Arizona. Those eligible have until Friday evening to officially enter, so the field won’t be finalized until then. However, No. 4 Phil Mickelson, who skipped the event last year to take his family on vacation, said he will be there after the final round at Pebble.

If all of the 64 decide to play, here are the provisional first-round matchups:

Rank Player Rank Player
1 Lee Westwood, England vs 64 Toru Taniguchi, Japan
2 Martin Kaymer, Germany vs 63 Noh Seung-yul, Korea
3 Tiger Woods, U.S. vs 62 Thomas Bjorn, Denmark
4 Phil Mickelson, U.S. vs 61 Brendan Jones, Australia
5 Graeme McDowell, N. Ireland vs 60 Heath Slocum, U.S.
6 Paul Casey, England vs 59 Richard Green, Australia
7 Rory McIlroy, N. Ireland vs 58 Jonathan Byrd, U.S.
8 Steve Stricker, U.S. vs 57 Matteo Manassero, Italy
9 Luke Donald, England vs 56 Charley Hoffman, U.S.
10 Jim Furyk, U.S. vs 55 Ryan Palmer, U.S.
11 Ernie Els, S. Africa vs 54 Jeff Overton, U.S.
12 Ian Poulter, England vs 53 Stewart Cink, U.S.
13 Matt Kuchar, U.S. vs 52 Anders Hansen, Denmark
14 Dustin Johnson, U.S. vs 51 Mark Wilson, U.S.
15 Robert Karlsson, Sweden vs 50 Hiroyuki Fujita, Japan
16 Retief Goosen, S. Africa vs 49 K.J. Choi, Korea
17 Francesco Molinari, Italy vs 48 Ryan Moore, U.S.
18 Hunter Mahan, U.S. vs 47 Sean O’Hair, U.S.
19 Bubba Watson, U.S. vs 46 Bill Haas, U.S.
20 Louis Oosthuizen, S. Africa vs 45 Bo Van Pelt, U.S.
21 Alvaro Quiros, Spain vs 44 Y.E. Yang, Korea
22 Tim Clark, S.Africa vs 43 Camilo Villegas, Colombia
23 Miguel Angel Jimenez, Spain vs 42 Yuta Ikeda, Japan
24 Edoardo Molinari, Italy vs 41 Martin Laird, Scotland
25 Charl Schwartzel, S.Africa vs 40 Ryo Ishikawa, Japan
26 Adam Scott, Australia vs 39 Ben Crane, U.S.
27 Kim Kyung-Tae, Korea vs 38 Jason Day, Australia
28 Robert Allenby, Australia vs 37 Ross Fisher, England
29 Rickie Fowler, U.S. vs 36 Peter Hanson, Sweden
30 Geoff Ogilvy, Australia vs 35 Padraig Harrington, Ireland
31 Zach Johnson, U.S. vs 34 Justin Rose, England
32 Nick Watney, U.S. vs 33 Anthony Kim, U.S.

At first glance, none of the pairings jump out to me enough that I’d reroute my plane for Tucson instead of heading back to NYC after this week’s LA Open (although the good weather is tempting). If someone named Toru Taniguchi of Japan opts not to play, then No. 65 Henrik Stenson will take his spot (and if others in the top-64 don’t play, then they’ll continue to be replaced by the next highest ranking player). As of now, world’s No. 1 Lee Westwood will face Taniguchi in the first round…*yawn*…

No. 3 Tiger Woods is expected to show up, which could be awkward just because we all remember title sponsor Accenture’s ads pre-Thanksgiving night. Like this one:

Or this one:

For good measure, (one of) my personal favorite(s):

Sorry, too easy…but also too funny. Anyway, Woods will face Thomas Bjorn, who vaulted to the top 64 with his win in Qatar a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, swing coach Sean Foley can at least kill two of four birds with one stone if he wants to watch his players — No. 18 Hunter Mahan is matched against No. 47 Sean O’Hair.

The Dustin Johnson vs. Mark Wilson matchup is kinda intriguing because you’ve got the power-hitting freak and the smaller guy who has won twice already in 2011. DJ will be driving it 100 yards past Wilson! But as we all know, distance is always an advantage (especially with regard to intimidation in matchplay), but it’s not the be-all and end-all (and as Wilson has shown this year).

Veteran Steve Stricker is slated to play against young Italian rising star Matteo Manassero.

Otherwise, wake me when things get interesting. By the way — excuse my ignorance — but who is this Brendan Jones of Australia? Oh wait, isn’t he the guy that played Tiger Woods in the first round of Match Play in his first big comeback in 2009? Sounds familiar…

If the bracket stays as is, which pairings are you looking forward to watching? It’s a bit early for predictions, but let’s throw some out, anyway — go for it!