Every Underdog Has His Day


Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and maybe Mike Weir are clearly the class of the field this week. But the winner will be ' Niclas Fasth or Tim Clark or Anders Hanson. If the form chart of the WCG-Accenture Match Play is as wacky as it usually is, nothing will be as it should be. If its business as usual, this years results sheet will look like scrambled eggs when it should look like chateaubriand.
Last year, the top four seeds all went spiraling down to defeat in the first round. Tiger lost to Peter OMalley, Phil Mickelson lost to John Cook, David Duval lost to eventual winner Kevin Sutherland, and No. 4 seed Jesper Parnevik took it on the chin from Paul Azinger. Sutherland played well in the tournament at Riviera the week before, won the Accenture, and didnt do a whole lot else for the rest of the year.
Playing in an 18-hole match play tournament is a lot like playing black jack. The flip of the cards on the first hand can go 50-50, said Mickelson Tuesday. The flip for the first 18 can still go either way. But as the cards are progressively flipped and more hands are played, the more likely it is that the better player will prevail. The correct odds play out more and more as each successive hand is dealt.
And the more holes that one plays, the more likely it is that the better golfer will prevail.
I would equate it more to mathematical odds, said Mickelson. Eighteen holes of golf would be like sitting down and playing black jack for 20 minutes. Theres a good chance you could win.
You sit there and play for 20 hours, theres a better chance youll lose ... But over 18 holes, it seems to negate any advantage that one player might have over another.
Padraig Harrington believes there is more pressure on the top seeds than there is on the lower seeds.
Its a very short form, 18 holes, said Harrington. Everybody in the top 64 can play golf, or play to a high standard. When you go into an 18-hole match, especially if youre the lower seed, you feel you have nothing to lose. Youre going for your shots, youre not worried about the consequences, and thats why it turns up upsets.
So on one hand, the final four should be Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen ' the top four seeds. But because they play just 18 holes (max) and then make way for the match right behind them, it is entirely likely that No. 1 will lose to No. 64, or No. 2 to No. 63.
If they were 72-hole matches, the stronger player should prevail, said Harrington. But over an 18-hole match, the underdog just goes out and plays. And if anything, maybe the top seed is a little bit ' is probably playing a little more cautious than he should.
So it pays to watch the first round Wednesday as much as it does to watch the final match on Sunday. Carl Petterson might beat Tiger in the first round. Or Phil Tataurengi might get past Els.
Its a fun event, Mickelson said. I would enjoy viewing Wednesday or Thursday as much as Saturday or Sunday.
Look at it this way, he said. Look in the newspapers at the day-by-day totals of the winner of an event. Its exceptionally rare that he led wire to wire. It is rare that he played the best golf of anybody all four days.
Tiger has won 35 events, Mickelson said. Of those 35 events, I dont know if there was any tournament where he was the low round every single day. Im sure that there were some (tournaments where he led each day) because hes just that good. But if you look at that, that means somebody beat him that given day.
The reason? Is it because the higher seed goes in with a disadvantage?
The underdog just goes out and plays, Harrington said. And if anything, maybe the top seed is a little bit ' is probably playing more cautious than he would. And the underdog is playing a little more aggressive. So its classic match play. Thats always what happens.
So it is quite unlikely, for example, that Woods will make it past five opponents ' the number of matches he must win if hes the champion. He has a better chance than anyone, but still it isnt the best of odds. He will be the favorite to beat his opponent in each match, but how likely is it to play out by the form chart?
Peter OMalley knows. Last year he pulled the big upset. Tiger knows, too. Thats the fun thing about match play. David can rise up and slay Goliath sometimes. Its why there is just as much reason to watch on Wednesday as there is on Sunday.
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