The Match Play Crap Shoot

When you’re playing in a field of the top 64 players in the world as everybody in this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is, you just never know how things are going to work out.

You can come into the event playing like a dog and beat a guy who was supposed to be the heavy favorite. Or, like Graeme McDowell, you can come in and play “decent” with six birdies and lose to a guy who made the right putt at the right time (Y.E. Yang). But it was no fluke: Yang was the guy who took out Tiger at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Or Rory McIlroy who was 3-up with 3 to go and cruising along against unheralded George Coetzee and then was very relieved that he didn’t have to make that 3-footer on 18 to save the day; Coetzee hit it on the back tier of the green with the pin down front and couldn’t get it close enough.

Or you could have been Aussie, Geoff Ogilvy, who’s won this event twice, but he ran headlong into shooting star Keegan Bradley who steamrollered him 4&3. And it was never close; Olgilvy never had a lead in the match. I was following the McIlroy match when I saw Bradley walking up onto the 8th tee. He had a 2-up lead and he had “the look” going. By the time he came off 13, he had a 5-up lead.

Or you could be the great Tiger Woods. Also paired with an unknown, Spaniard, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. And it was problematic. “Yeah, I don’t think either one of us had our best stuff today, subsequently the match is back and forth.  It was the epitome of match play. I was 2 down through 2 and had a putt there at 3 to not go 3‑down through 3.  And I had a putt at 9 to go 2‑up at the turn.  And then all of a sudden I had–I made a huge par putt at 12 to not go 2 down. It was just a match that was just back and forth.  And we both made our share of mistakes; there’s no doubt about that.  But somehow I was able to move on.” Just by the hair on his now goatee-less face. It was close. And he looked drained when it was done.

Or you could be World No. 1, Luke Donald and lose to Ernie Els, No. 65, and only in the field because Phil Mickelson withdrew due to a family commitment. He lost by a lopsided 5&4. “I’m not sure where to start.  I just didn’t play very well.  It’s disappointing.  I’ve been working really hard.  To lose control of the golf ball like I did today is really frustrating, but I believe the hard work will start paying off soon.”

Or you could be super-athlete, Dustin Johnson who hadn’t lived up to his promise in three previous trips to the Match Play. The guy who can dunk a basketball couldn’t win a match in Tucson. And playing against wily old veteran, Jim Furyk, it was looking early like he wasn’t going to win his fourth attempt either; going into the par-5 11th, he was 3-down. And he bogeyed it…but Furyk saved him by making a double. And it ultimately went 20 holes before he was finally able to win; 1 for 4 is a start.

Or you could be 20-year-old, Japanese heart-throb, Ryo Ishikawa, who was thrown into the lion’s den against last week’s dramatic winner at Riviera, Bill Haas. Ishikawa won 1-up and sent the star packing. “Well, if we played on a different course, maybe there was no chance for me to win the match today.  I think this course is suited for me.” Watch out Paul Lawrie, you could be next.

Or you could be World No. 8, Adam Scott, who would be a GQ model if he wasn’t. And you could be going into your match against No. 59, Robert Rock, with not a lot of concern but aware of one little threat: the possibility that he could take you out the same way he took out Tiger in Abu Dhabi. And you lose 1-down.

This is the way of match play and one of the reasons that it is so fascinating…except, of course, for the losers.

Here’s the line-up of the most interesting matches for Day 2 for their competitiveness (on paper) and the surfacing of high-calibre International players:

09:25 – Steve Stricker vs Louis Oosthuizen

09:37 – Y.E. Yang vs Hunter Mahan

09:49 – Matteo Manassero vs Martin Laird

10:25 – Dustin Johnson vs Francesco Molinari

11:01 – Martin Kaymer vs David Toms

11:13 – Matt Kuchar vs Bubba Watson

11:25 – Lee Westwood vs Robert Karlsson

11:37 – Nick Watney vs Tiger Woods

12:01 – Kyle Stanley vs Brandt Snedeker

It should be a great day–the weather will be a non-factor; 55 at 9:30 going to 80 and winds 10 to 15 late afternoon. And the ball goes a long way in the warmth, altitude and low humidity. Tiger did the adjusted math on a 270-yard shot into a par-5 and it came out 3-iron. 3-iron 270 yards! He couldn’t believe it either, and ended up hitting the 5-wood over the green.

Hope you get a chance to come or to watch. The course is gorgeous and the desert setting splendid.

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