World number one Luke Donald is 14/1 when he returns to Arizona to defend his WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship title this week, but will face stiff competition with 62 of the world’s top 64 players making an appearance at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
Phil Mickelson and Paul Casey will be the only two notable absences, the former instead enjoying a family holiday while 2009 and 2010 runner-up Casey continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder. South Africans George Coetzee and Ernie Els will take their respective places.
Donald won last year’s Championship in dominant fashion, comfortably making his way through five ties to the final before defeating Martin Kaymer 3&1.
Having not previously won in the States since his Honda Classic success in 2006, this victory became the catalyst for the Brit’s best career season, ending the year world number one and becoming the first golfer to finish top of both the PGA and European Tour money lists in the same year.
Key to Donald’s success last year was his consistency at tournaments – in the 24 events that he took part in, he placed top ten 18 times, winning four times and finishing runner-up on three occasions.
But with a field as strong as this, with Rory McIlroy 10/1, Lee Westwood 14/1 and three-time winner Tiger Woods 10/1 all involved, Donald won’t expect to win it at a canter again this time round.
Much will depend on Monday’s final seedings and brackets, but Donald showed last year that even in the most high-pressure of scenarios, the 2011 PGA Player of the Year is capable of finding a killer instinct that had previously eluded him.
His impressive finish at the Children’s Miracle Classic in October – when he rallied to produce six consecutive birdies in a final round 64 to catch the man he was paired with, Webb Simpson – demonstrated a determination to match his flawless putting, while his composure in last year’s play-off win over then-number one Lee Westwood at the BMW PGA Championship was arguably an even greater feat of class and composure.
A successful defence of his title in Marana could well inspire Donald onto another all-conquering season – only this time one that includes a debut major.