Match Play Set for Classic Match-ups

By Golf Channel NewsroomFebruary 22, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayEver year the mind fills with wonderful possibilities: Vijay vs. Phil; Phil vs. Retief; Retief vs. Vijay; Tiger vs. any of them. But every year, when it comes to these classic match-ups, the WGC-Accenture Match Play proves more tease than truth.
This year, however, maybe the tournament will deliver on all of its promise. Because although the season is only seven events old, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have accounted for four of those titles.
The only big name absent this week is Ernie Els, who would have been the No. 3 seed.
As player-turned-broadcaster-turned-player Curtis Strange used to say about 72 times a telecast: match play is a different animal.
When youve got (just) 18 holes, anything can happen, Woods has said.
And it usually does.
Woods lost to Darren Clarke in the 2000 final, and then fell victim as the No. 1 seed to Peter OMalley in the first round two years later.
He then won the tournament over David Toms in 2003, and did the same over Davis Love III a year ago. Last years victory was his lone PGA Tour title of the season. And, in a perfect example of match-play quirkiness, he was about one good swing from being bounced once again in the opening round.
Woods narrowly escaped No. 64 seed John Rollins on the first day, when Rollins, 1-up through 16 holes, bogeyed the 17th and then truly butchered the 18th to fall 1-down.
Match play has the ability to pack more pressure and excitement into a days play than does stroke play ' Day 1 of the Accenture Match Play will be far more exciting than the opening 18 holes at last weeks Nissan Open.
But its also more unpredictable than a bounce on Pebble Beach greens.
In 2002, the top 3 seeds were ousted in the first round, as Mickelson and David Duval joined Woods on the list of Day 1 casualties at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., which will again play host this year.
Upsets are more than commonplace in this event ' they are almost expected. Thats because there is very little separation of skill between the top 64 or so players in the world ' at least over 18 holes.
Over 18 holes, you know, say I was playing Tiger, if I make a couple of good putts and get momentum going my way, and make a few birdies, anything is possible, said Kevin Sutherland, who won the six-round tournament in 2002.
Not to say that you can beat Tiger Woods in four rounds, but its easier to do that in an 18-hole match.
At this level it doesn't take much to lose a match, said Woods. You go out there and lose a couple of holes in a row and get behind. These guys are that much better. They don't make mistakes. And that's one of the things you realize when you play at this elite level, is that the guys don't make a whole lot of mistakes.
And when they do, pressure can sometimes be the culprit.
When you go into an 18-hole match, especially if you're the lower seed, you feel you have nothing to lose. You're going for your shots, you're not worried about the consequences, and thats why it turns up upsets, said Padraig Harrington.
If you're drawing against a lower seed, it's automatically on the paper that he's the underdog and you're the favored. Everybody likes being the underdog. Its much harder being the favorite.
Last year's final featured the No. 1 seed vs. No. 3. Thats as close to a marquee match-up that the event has ever displayed on Sunday.
The inaugural event, in 1999, saw No. 24 Jeff Maggert defeat No. 50 Andrew Magee. No. 19 Clarke knocked off No. 1 Woods in 2000. When 40 players opted not to make the trip to Melbourne, Australia in January 2001, No. 55 Steve Stricker eventually defeated No. 21 Pierre Fulke. In the upset-filled event of 2002, No. 62 Sutherland edged No. 45 Scott McCarron for the title. And in 2003, No. 1 Woods outlasted a game David Toms, who was seeded sixth.
Obviously, most of those are not the dynamic final matches that television executives and tour officials would desire.
Match play and television dont always jive. And its not every players favorite format. Thirty-two players will make the trip to Southern California for only one day of competition.
I enjoy it because you only get to play it maybe once a year, said Robert Allenby.
And that time is now.
Its time for players ' whether or not they enjoy the change in format ' to alter their approach, refocus their philosophy, and do what they can to avoid extinction and play the next day.
Whatever it takes to advance, said Woods of his match-play approach. Whether you shoot 10 over par and advance or 10 under par and advance ' it doesnt matter. Whatever it takes to advance ' thats the name of the game.
You know that all you have to do is just beat your opponent that day, just be better than your opponent.
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    Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

    The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

    “I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

    Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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    As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

    “I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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    Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

    Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

    “I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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    Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

    “[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

    Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

    “He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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    This week, let the games(manship) begin

    By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

    What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

    During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

    “Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

    Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

    “There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

    Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

    Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

    “Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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    Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

    “I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

    While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

    But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

    “It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

    It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

    McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

    It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

    “Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

    Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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    Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

    By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

    While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

    The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

    "I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

    Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

    According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

    "I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

    Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

    Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

    "I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

    Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.