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His opponent? The No. 64 seed, Ernie Els, a three-time major champion and seven-time winner of the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, where the matches are contested over 36 holes instead of the 18-hole sprints in Arizona.
Not since the inaugural Match Play Championship in 1999 has No. 1 against No. 64 featured such big stars, when Woods beat Nick Faldo.
Of course, there's a reason Els comes in as the No. 64 seed.
The Big Easy hasn't won since the South African Open at the end of 2010, and he only got into this tournament because Phil Mickelson is taking a family vacation (Paul Casey later withdrew with injury).
Donald is coming off a year in which he won money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour, and won a career-high four tournaments, starting with the Match Play Championship.
Donald was so dominant at Dove Mountain last year that he never played the 18th hole all week in competition.
"He had an unbelievable year last year, and becoming world No. 1. So he's got a lot going for him," Els said. "It's 18 holes, you know? It's not like I'm the worst match-play player in the world, either. I think I know what I need to do. You've got to keep the ball in play. You've got to keep it in play on every single hole, because he's going to be in every hole."
McIlroy takes on George Coetzee, who is playing for the first time ever in America as a pro. Coetzee got in when Casey's shoulder injury from snowboarding was not fully healed. Westwood plays Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium. Martin Kaymer, who lost in the championship match to Donald a year ago, is the No. 4 seed and opens with Greg Chalmers of Australia.
No one knows how long they will stay. The smart players don't even bother looking ahead in the bracket to see whom they might face in the next round. Ben Crane opens with Bubba Watson, interesting in that their caddies are sharing a room this week. One of them will be checking out Wednesday afternoon.
"If you get on a roll and you play well, you can run the tables here," said Steve Stricker, who did just that in 2001 as the No. 55 seed.
"I don't think it really matters where you come from, to tell you the truth," he said. "They're all good players. There are 64 good players here, and they deserve to be here. They've shown that they've played well over the last year to be within that top 64. So you need to play well, just because everybody is good."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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