Although I follow just about all of them, there are roughly 12 tournaments on the Tour schedule that I really get up for each year. But the one this week in particular stands out a little more than the other 11, simply because it’s the only official tournament of the season with the format that most competitive amateur players play on a weekly basis back home at their clubs – matchplay. Those of us who play competitively have come to love matchplay format for many different reasons, but the one primary reason is that we’re often given an opportunity to employ a strategy that is sometimes different from the strategies we would normally use in a typical stroke-play format. We don’t have to concern ourselves with how well the other players are playing in the tournament, just the opponent we’ve drawn for the match that day. This atmosphere enables us to narrow our focus and adjust our strategies accordingly, not based on score alone, but more so what our opponents are doing. It also gives us an opportunity to exert a little gamesmanship, albeit tasteful and well within the confines and etiquette of the proper competitive spirit that a majority of us believe the game should be played.
The unpredictable nature of matchplay is the other entertaining aspect to this format in itself…. those of us familiar with it understand that momentum plays such a huge role in the outcome of winning or losing. A player can play very well and lose in this format, or can have an off day and still win. After his splendid final round at Riviera on Sunday, Sergio Garcia was asked to comment about his thoughts of playing well coming into this week’s WGC Matchplay tournament. His reply captured the true essence of what makes matchplay so unique. “Yeah, but matchplay is funny, and you guys know that. (In) matchplay, I might go out next week and shoot 5-under and get beaten. You know, it’s just the way it is.”
It’s not that often that David beats Goliath in 72 holes of stroke-play, but on any given day in matchplay? You bet it could happen. We’ve seen it happen numerous times, and it could very well happen again this week as well. As I said earlier, momentum can swing wildly and change the entire scope of the battle. And besides that, the lower seeded players have to negotiate something that their higher-seeded opponents are exempt from: the expectation of winning. One of those higher seeded players is Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who faces Tiger Woods in the first round of the event on Wednesday. Earlier in the week when the pairings were released, he was asked about his upcoming match with Woods, and reminded us that with the lower seeding comes higher expectations to win. “I think it’s great to be playing against Tiger. All the top 64 players in the world, they’re all good, and you can get beat by any of them. But playing against one of the best players in history, it’s a good experience, and of course I think I have nothing to lose.” As my former high school basketball coach once said to us in the locker room before a game against a team that had yet to win a game that season, “You never overlook an opponent, especially those who have absolutely nothing to lose.” We disregarded his pep-talk and overlooked that team, and 2 hours later they were celebrating their first victory of the season while we were running laps around the high school gym.
“You never overlook an opponent” is often cliche in Golf, but it has never been more true than in this event. I guess that’s what I love most about it.
To see the WGC Accenture Matchplay bracket, click HERE.
Opening round coverage starts Wednesday at noon EST on the Golf Channel
PS – if you’re interested in competing in GolfWeek.Com’s Matchplay Bracket Challenge, click HERE. It’s free.