Match Play fickle fun and frustrating

By Doug FergusonFebruary 22, 2011, 2:14 am
2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayMARANA, Ariz. – Padraig Harrington might feel a lot better about his chances in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship if he were still playing junior golf in Ireland.

He thinks he’d probably make more birdies, anyway.

“I used to love match play as a kid. It was my favorite,” Harrington said. “When I was an amateur, I was shooting scores I couldn’t shoot today. I was shooting well under par. Now, professional golf has taken that out of me. We play so much stroke play that you’re cautious. You don’t want to make mistakes. Professional golf knocks the edge off you.”

Harrington and 63 other players will be looking for that edge when the first World Golf Championship gets under way Wednesday in the high desert of Dove Mountain.

No other tournament on the PGA Tour schedule is like this one.

There is more drama, excitement and heartache found in the opening round than the final round because of simple match: There are 32 matches, meaning 32 players will be happy and 32 players not so much.

WGC-Match Play TV Schedule
(All times Eastern)

Golf Channel_new
Wed: Noon-6 p.m.

Thurs: 2-6 p.m.
Fri: 2-6 p.m.
Sat: Noon-2 p.m.
Sun: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

NBC Sports
Sat: 2-6 p.m.

Sun: 2-6 p.m.

“It’s horrific, at least the first 10 minutes,” said Geoff Ogilvy when asked to describe how it feels to lose in any round. And this is a guy who has won the Match Play Championship twice and was a finalist another time.

“If the you finish top 10 in a tournament, you can find something good about it,” said Ogilvy, who plays Harrington in the opening round. “You can’t find anything good about losing at match play.”

Adding to the buzz going into the week is that for the first this year, all the best players in the world are at one tournament.

Lee Westwood, the No. 1 player in the world for the last four months, is the fifth player to be the top seed since this tournament began in 1999. The others were Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker.

Westwood opens against Henrik Stenson, who got into the 64-man field when Toru Taniguchi of Japan withdrew with a neck injury. It would be considered a tough draw, except that no opponent is a pushover. Westwood should know that by now, for the Englishman has never advanced beyond the second round.

Robert Karlsson, who would seem to be tough in match play, had never won a match until last year. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. Three years ago he drew Paul Casey in the opening round and shot 65, only to lose. Casey shot 64,

So when he was asked if he looked forward to the week, Karlsson paused.

“Yes and no,” the Swede said with a smile. “It’s a bit funny. It’s good fun, and we don’t play it very often. I do enjoy the Ryder Cup match play a little more. This one here, the week can become so short. One year I was there for less than three hours.”

That was in 2007 when he played all of 11 holes before Stephen Ames beat him.

The matches are 18 holes of anything goes, and that now includes the championship match. Instead of a 36-hole final on Sunday, the format has been changed to 18-hole semifinals Sunday morning, immediately followed by an 18-hole final match.

PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany is the No. 2 seed and will play big-hitting Seung-yul Noh of South Korea. Woods, the No. 3 seed, faces longtime friend Thomas Bjorn, while fourth-seeded Phil Mickelson gets Brendan Jones.

So what’s the secret?

“I don’t think there are any secrets,” said Casey, twice a runner-up in this tournament, including last year to Ian Poulter. “It’s the guys making long putts. That’s really difficult to face. And that could be anybody.”

Stricker thinks the big hitters have an advantage on desert courses. He remembers facing Angel Cabrera on a different Dove Mountain course and watching him putt for eagle six times. “That’s hard to compete against it,” Stricker said.

Click for the full bracket for the
2011 WGC-Acccenture Match Play Championship.
There have been players who didn’t bring enough clothes for the week, not believing they would last as long as they did. And there have been players – a lot of them – going home with a suitcase full of clothes that haven’t been worn.

So what’s the best attitude to bring into such a fickle week?

“However I went in during 2006 and 2009,” Ogilvy said, referring to the two years he won. “It’s a weird tournament. In ’09, I played horrific the first three days – OK, horrific might be an exaggeration – but I didn’t play great. I went to 19 holes with (Kevin) Sutherland. Shingo (Katayama) let me off the hook at 18. And all of a sudden on the weekend, I found something.”

He said he played his best golf of the year in the final, even though he though he shouldn’t have advanced out of the first round.

Stewart Cink was the only American to reach the quarterfinals last year, and he was a finalist in 2008 when Woods won for the third time, a 6-and-5 victory that was the biggest margin for a championship match.

Cink loves the format, citing the “do-or-die” situations in brings.

“The finality of every shots brings out a new level of focus,” Cink said. “I’ve studied every possible direction you can study trying to figure out how to get that focus into my stroke-play game. But there’s something about match play. That’s why we see such a high level of golf at the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup and at Accenture. I just love the format.”

But he doesn’t like losing. No one does.

“When you lose,” Retief Goosen said with a grin, “you want to hit the other guy.”
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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”