Match Play Set for Classic Match-ups

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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.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - WGC-Accenture Match Play