When the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships get underway on Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort, defending 2012 champion Hunter Mahan will have to face 19 year old Italian Matteo Manaserro in the first the first round. Mahan and Manaserro are seeded 6th and 11th respectfully in the Gary Player Division.
Hunter Mahan has played pretty well this spring, but has been unable to crack the top ten in four starts. He was in contention for a while at Riveria in the Northern Trust Open last week, but was only managed a 69 in the final round which was good for an 8th place tie. He hasn’t won a tournament since wining the Shell Houston Open last April, and is currently in 18th place on the FedEx Cup points list.
Mahan is not especially long off of the tee, with a 120th place ranking, but the glaring hole in his game is his sand play. He is currently a -10 in sand save percentage, and is ranked 140th. His sand trap play was his undoing at The Phoenix Open. I think he won this tournament last year because he ran into a very tired Rory McIlroy who was wore out from traveling, and holding off a determined Lee Westwood in the semi-finals.
Matteo Manaserro, who turns 20 in April. and is from Verona, Italy is a formidable opponent for Mahan in this matchup. The young Italian got hot toward the end of the 2012 European Tour season with a fourth place finish at the UBS Hong Kong Open in November, and he picked up a win at the Barclays Singapore Open. He faded when he got to Dubai where he finished in a tie for 42nd place. His best finish in 2013 was a T 9 at The Volvo Golf Championship. He hasn’t played since finishing T 12 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Manaserro has won three tournaments on the European Tour, and is currently sitting in 28th position on the Race To Dubai points list. Like Mahan, Manaserro is not long off of the tee, but is getting better as he gets a little older and starts to add some body strength. He has a decent short game, and can get hot with his putter.
Match play is one of the strengths of Hunter Mahan’s game. I felt he deserved more consideration than he got for the Ryder Cup last year, but will need his A-Game if he wants to advance to the second round and further defend his title in Arizona. This is a match-up that is well worth a look.
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