Without Tiger and Phil, Accenture an Imperfect Match
The Accenture Match Play Championship is a World Golf Championship event, which, according to the PGA Tour, makes it a big deal, but this week's 64-player field at Dove Mountain, that begins Wednesday outside Tucson, Ariz., will not include world No. 1 Tiger Woods or No. 3 Phil Mickelson.
Woods remains confounding undercover while his public image continues to sink, and Mickelson has scheduled a family trip.
The reasons for their respective absences provide an interesting contrast, but combined works to draw more attention for what the event is missing than what it has to offer.
"Yeah, I think it will take away quite a lot from Monday and Tuesday, you know, the hype before the tournament," two-time major champ Padraig Harrington said. "But I think when any tournament starts it evolves itself and will create its own stories. There's always stories during the week of a golf event."
Upsets are typically abundant, sending the top-seeds scattering anyway, so Harrington is correct.
Woods, as the No. 1 seed, has won the event three of the 11 times it has been played. Otherwise, no other player who went into the competition as one of the four tournament-bracket No. 1 seeds has ever gone on to win.
"The guy who wins the tournament will probably be the guy playing the best golf that week in the world," Harrington said. "I think he will be a worthy winner, and that all the matches will create a story. If guys aren't there -- I won't say they'll be forgotten about, but there will be new things to talk about once the games get going."
The match-play format is a rarity for from PGA Tour players, and usually demands some getting used to.
Rather than the typical weekly challenge of posting a score, each round is played head-up against one opponent, the winner determined by who wins the most holes -- no matter how many swings.
"You have to prepare a little bit different and practice a little bit differently," said Jim Furyk. You have to get used to hitting 15- or 20-foot putts where it doesn't matter unless you make it. Then talking yourself into still hitting it the same speed and not blowing it 5 feet through the break.
"A lot more of the mental aspect is probably around the green than it is a ball-striking perspective. But, still, if you are out there in the middle of the fairway, 150, and the guy you are playing with is in trouble, do you stay aggressive, do you play conservative? It's more of a mental aspect than it physical preparation."
The most significant adjustment is breaking the habit that every stroke adds up.
"Just as long as you beat the guy, even if you don't play great," said Canadian Mike Weir. "Or you can play great and lose. That's the interesting thing about it.
"The biggest thing is you watch. You pay attention more to what other guys are doing."
Australian Geoff Ogilvy is this week's defending match-play champion, and he's got a little bit of karma working for his defense.
The seven-time PGA Tour winner started his 2010 season the same way he started 2009, with a victory at the season-opening SBS Championship in Hawaii.
Ogilvy's victory at last year's match play over Paul Casey was his second at this event and his third World Golf Championships win. Ogilvy, who won the 2006 Accenture Match Play Championship and the 2008 CA Championship, is the only player other than Tiger Woods to win three World Golf Championship events.
Ogilvy's .894 winning percentage (17-2 record) at the Accenture Match Play Championship is the best current active winning percentage of any player. Ogilvy has reached the championship match in three of the four years that he has played in the event.
Dustin Johnson, 25, and in his third season out of Costal Carolina University, defended his AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am title Sunday, and became the first PGA Tour newcomer since Woods to win in each of his first three seasons. His statistical week:
Driving distance/rank: 303.3 yards, 1.
Driving accuracy: 42 of 55 (76.64 percent), T-11.
Greens in regulation: 58 of 72 (80.6 percent), T-3.
Putting Average: 1.655, 7.
Total putts: 116, T-30.
Since 1936, there have been nine occasions in the United States where a major championship was played on a golf course that also hosted a PGA Tour event that same season.
Woods (2000 and 2008), Jack Nicklaus (1972) and Ben Hogan (1948) are the only players to win both the tour event and major championship on the same course in the same year.
But, with back-to-back AT&T Pebble Beach titles, you have to like Johnson's chances in June when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach.
"It's a total different golf course then," Johnson cautioned. "It's gonna play different. Hopefully it'll be firm and fast. The rough's going to be three times as long as it is right now knowing the USGA."
"Not really, only if I'm bored. I don't really like watching Golf Channel." -- Luke Donald when asked if he enjoyed watching golf on television when away from the tour
Quote Marks II
"Well, after my first few victories, I think we might have celebrated a little too much, so I learned my lesson there. I just had a nice dinner Sunday night with my caddie and we came over her Monday and it's back to work." -- AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am winner Johnson on his third career victory
Heading into this week's season opener, the Honda PTT in Thailand, the LPGA's vital signs appear significantly improved.
Within a recent three-week stretch, the women's tour announced three new title sponsors -- Sybase, Hana Bank and Kia.
This year's schedule will have 25 events, although only nine are full-field, non-major domestic stops.
Carolyn Bivens, there was concern the schedule would not reach 20 events.
In the few months under new boss Michael Whan the tour's efforts have been far more centered on marketing itself.
"For sure that is great news," said Lorena Ochoa, the world's top woman player. "Not only me, but all of the players believe that the LPGA is going in the right direction. It's nice to find out that we have new sponsors. It helps a lot. Thank you to the sponsors."