Match Play unpredictability levels playing field
Tiger Woods called the Match Play Championship his best performance last year.
The numbers don't lie.
He made two bogeys on the first 102 holes he played, and just five in his six matches. He only saw the 18th hole three times, and one of those was in a practice round.
If this had been a stroke-play event?
``I felt like I would have won by a lot,'' Woods said Tuesday. ``I mean, I really played well.''
The funny thing about this $7 million World Golf Championship is that even if Woods plays just as well this year, there's no guarantee he won't be among 32 guys heading for the airport after the first round.
``It's the unpredictability of match play,'' Woods said. ``If we had to play match play every single week, guys would retire by the age of 40 because of the emotional ups and downs and roller coasters you go through on 18 holes.''
The most fickle format in golf gets under way Wednesday at La Costa Resort with 32 first-round matches where seeds are about as valuable as an unsigned check.
Last year was the first time two top-10 seeds have reached the 36-hole finals, and Woods outlasted sixth-seeded David Toms on the 35th hole.
The No. 2 seed has lost in the first round each of the last three years, which doesn't bode well for Vijay Singh. Besides, the Fijian has never made it past the second round.
Seeds of the other Accenture Match Play Championship winners look like lotto numbers -- 24, 19, 55, 62. Those belonged to Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke, Steve Stricker and Kevin Sutherland.
Clarke is the only guy from that group who qualified this year, and he had this to say about the difference of match play and stroke play.
``Stupidity, I was going to say,'' Clarke said. ``But I don't think that will go down well.''
No, it's a perfect application this week.
Just ask Scott Hoch, who played a beautiful round of golf last year. He was splitting the middle of the fairway and holing enough putts to be 3 under par through 13 holes. Only one other guy had a better score in the quarterfinals, and it happened to be his opponent -- Woods -- who was 8-under when the match ended on No. 14.
There are no upsets, just lots of upset players.
Even the most affable players in golf have few words when they lose in the first round. One year when Colin Montgomerie was knocked out of the first round, he was asked how about his week.
``Lovely flight,'' he said. ``Going to take another one tonight.''
That's one reason Ernie Els decided not to show up this year. The third-ranked player said he wanted to spend time with his 4-year-old daughter in London before she starts school, although the Big Easy made it clear last month he's not a big fan of La Costa, or 18-hole matches where anything goes.
Jim Furyk also had to withdraw with a wrist injury, which jumbled the seedings.
Woods plays the first round against John Rollins, who hasn't been in match play since he lost to Matt Kuchar in the round of 16 at the '97 U.S. Amateur.
Singh plays Shingo Katayama, while third-seeded Davis Love III takes on Briny Baird and fourth-seeded Mike Weir, coming off a victory in the Nissan Open, faces Rich Beem.
When it was suggested to Beem that Weir might be facing a post-victory hangover from Riviera, he replied, ``I'll be sending plenty of champagne to his room.''
Woods didn't even know whom he might play in the second round, nor does he care.
``Even when I was playing in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior, I kept it in the present and kept focusing on one match at a time,'' Woods said. ``Once I got that match done with, I'd focus on who I was going to play in the next match, and figure out what I needed to do, adjust my game to beat my opponent.''
Woods isn't unbeatable -- just ask Peter O'Malley, who knocked him out of the first round two years ago -- but his record indicates he remains the guy to beat.
Woods is 14-3 at the Match Play Championship, his other losses coming against Clarke in the 2000 finals and to Maggert in the 1999 quarterfinals.
Don't rule out the travel-weary or the injured.
Toms is playing only his second tournament since surgery on his wrist, and he says he is hitting the ball shorter as he tries to regain strength. In a stroke-play event, he'd have no chance this week.
``Thank goodness for match play,'' he said.
Montgomerie flew into La Costa from the Malaysian Open, which isn't the best preparation. Considering his record, what difference does it make?
He has been beaten in the first round three times in four years, the exception coming in 2000 when he made it all the way to the second round.
``I look forward to match play, like I always do, although my record here is very, very poor,'' he said. ``Why, I don't know. Coincidence, hopefully.''
Even Woods might buy into that theory.
``The thing about stroke play is the best player that week wins,'' he said. ``In match play, the best player that week doesn't always win. It's the best player that particular day.''
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