A Different Kind of Game


Match play is as much like 72-hole stroke play as a sleek little sports car is to an F-18 fighter jet. Both are means of conveyance and both are forms of golf, but thats where the similarities end.
In match play, each hole played is a mini-tournament. A player wins, loses or ties each hole played until he is ahead ' or behind ' by a bigger margin than there are holes remaining.
A stroke-play tournament is the total score over 72 holes. At the end of 72 holes, the score is totaled and a winner named.
Everything changes, Tiger Woods was saying. Everything is on the moment.
You dont get into the situation generally until maybe Sunday afternoon on the back nine where you might be playing your opponent a little bit. Here, its right from the first hole . Here, if you dont go out there and play right away, youll be going home. I know that, and everyone else knows that, and youve got to get up for it.
Case in point: the WCG-Accenture Match Play Championship. Players won or lost their matches and went home, or lived to play another day. It mattered none at all if you scored well or didnt score so well ' only that you won one more hole than your opponent.
Figuring out a score in match play is difficult because so many holes are conceded. But several players were under par for the day ' and lost. Others were over par and won.
Ernie Els, Fred Funk, Loren Roberts and Carl Pettersson all shot 1-under scores in the first round and got beat. Scott Hoch shot 3-under in the fourth round and lost to a red-hot Woods, who was busy shooting 7-under at the same time in just 14 holes.
On the other hand, Jim Furyk shot 5-over and won when his opponent, Len Mattiace, shot 6-over. Darren Clarke shot 3-over and won when Tim Clark shot 5-over. Peter Lonard shot 3-over and won when Phil Tataurangi shot 5-over. These guys might have scored better if they had been pressed by their opponents, but you only have to win one more hole than your opponent does ' hence some over-par winners.
Yesterday I played really well and shot 68 and would have beaten maybe 59 guys out of the field, said Nick Price after he had stopped Paul Lawrie in the first round. But if you come up against one of the other five (in the Accenture field) and play like that and get beaten, then it is goodnight, and that is hard.
It all depends on the matches you get obviously there are times when you have to play great golf, but if you just plod along and make good pars ' its hard to beat someone who is making pars all the time.
So much of match play is mental, and that doesnt necessarily mean gamesmanship. But it means that there is an advantage to driving first and getting your ball into the fairway, or getting onto the green before your opponent hits, or making the putt first. It adds pressure on your opponent each time to top you, and eventually it can wear a man down.
If you happen to not be hitting the ball very well and are just able to stay in the match, said Kevin Sutherland, you can gain a lot of momentum from that. And for a sport that seems to move very slowly, momentum in match play is huge.
And you can really ride that momentum, if you get it on your side ' especially if you can get it in the middle of the backside or maybe early in the backside.
Sutherland has been a match-play wizard the last couple of years. He was the Accenture champ last year when he won six straight matches, then won two more against higher seeds this year to set a match-play record. His eight straight wins is a standard that no one else has surpassed.
Pared down to simple terms, in match play you have to play the man, but in stroke play you must play the course.
Youre not worried about what the other guys (on the course) are doing, Scott Hoch said. Youre not worried theyre playing different conditions. They play early in the morning and we play in the afternoon. You feed off the other guy. You play according to what he does.
Depending on what the other guy does will determine how you hit some of the shots, whether you can go for it, whether you lay up, whether you take a chance and go for the pin or go for the middle of the green. Thats what is totally different.
Sometimes you dont even watch what your opponent is doing, Woods said. There are times you totally block him out of your mind. Other times, he is at the forefront of what you are doing.
Its hard to say, Tiger said, because its the moment, and how it flows from hole to hole and from shot to shot, what you can do. A lot of times you can force your opponent to make a mistake, and other times you may play conservative and go ahead and let him take the chance. But a lot of it, its just a feel, from experience, and playing a lot of matches.
Someone told Hoch that the old quote that match play is a better test of character, stroke play is a better test of golf. Is that a fair assessment, he was asked?
Hoch laughed heartily. Thats the loser that says that, he said.
Full Coverage of the WGC - Accenture Match Play Championship