Russell Henley (pictured) emerged as a potential major champion in the early weeks of the 2013 season. He won his first event as a full member of the PGA Tour, claiming the Sony Open in January. That win qualified him for the US Masters and even at this stage of his career Henley looks a possible contender.
The Accenture Match Play is the first WGC event in which Henley has played. He has limited match play experience but his skill’s profile gives him an opportunity to reach the latter stages in his bracket. When he won the Sony Open his putting was exceptional and his above average length of the tee is also a positive in the context of this week’s format.
Our Player in Focus has a tough draw due to his world ranking. He plays Charl Schwartzel in the first round and if he progresses meets either Zach Johnson or Jason Day in round two. He is in the same section of the draw as Rory McIlroy and it would be a great contest if they were to meet in the quarterfinals.
Henley won two tournaments on the Web.com Tour at the end of 2012 and finished third in two other events. At the Sony Open he completed 20 successive rounds of competitive golf under par in which excellent putting was key to his low scoring.
Henley won his two feeder Tour titles after a play-off. On both occasions he holed medium length clutch putts to qualify for extra holes. He then beat his opponents in the play-offs to prove he can play at his best under intense pressure.
In winning the Sony Open Henley had three rounds of 63 and another round of 67. He led from the first round and never looked like being caught even though several well established Tour professionals figured on the leaderboard.
By winning the Sony Open Henley has earned full exempt status until the end of the 2015 season. His world ranking gets him into the majors and World Golf Championship events. He could become the first debutant to win the US Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
It will be interesting to see how Henley copes with the special demands of match play golf. He was tied for leading amateur in the 2010 US Open and he could well improve on his finishing position of 15th in this year’s Masters tournament. However, the former Walker Cup player is an underdog with a decent chance to win his first WGC event this week.