All of the things that make golf the great game are contained in matchplay, its original and purest form. All of the vicissitudes, all of the punishments and rewards for daring and temperance are contained in it. Tiger Woods summed it up perfectly in an interview when he said that if the guys had to play matchplay golf week in and week out they would be burned out long before they were 40.
This game is certainly taxing on the nerves but it is also testing of character too. In matchplay golf you can win playing poorly and lose playing brilliantly. The Accenture Matchplay Championship played at Carlsbad in California last week saw some of the most sublime play suffer defeat and some of the most mediocre triumph. Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter made the quarter-finals yet they never broke par, while Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Brian Davies all broke par and got nowhere.
Colin Montgomerie played by far the best golf of the week in his second round match with Stewart Cink when he played 14 holes in seven under par. If this was not his best ever performance it was certainly his best for a long time. It was cruel to watch his fortunes fail him as he fell to Stephen Leaney in the third round, although Leaney played some beautiful golf and was the deserved winner. Similarly, Phil Mickelson played wonderfully to put Lee Westwood out in the first round before falling to the grinding consistency of Davis Love in the third. Had this been a strokeplay event the results would have been very different.
Matchplay golf was seen at its best in the match between Darren Clarke and Eduardo Romero, which from the onset was destined to go to extra holes for a resolution. It was seen at its most exasperating in the all-Scandinavian affair between Fredrik Jacobson and Thomas Bjorn. Jacobson scrambled halves and eventually holes from the most hopeless of situations, from behind trees and from in creeks to win the match. Bjorn, after playing with noteworthy consistency and patience, showed his despair by knocking his ball off the green and into a bunker in disgust. Jacobson almost did it again to Woods in the third round but Woods is also familiar with miracles and produced enough to trounce the pretender.
Tiger was the defending champion; it was his tournament although he was far from at his best and even further from playing championship-winning golf. But even in only the second of the five gears at his disposal, Wood is yet the complete golfer. It says much for Darren Clarke that he beat the beast when he was really roaring in 2000. It says even more for the Tiger that he can win this event when he is merely purring. The fact is that Woods can make magic on demand, that he has character in abundance to draw on as well as a psychological advantage over the field, all conspiring to make him the best.
It has to be said, however, that relative to times past, the opposition set against him this week did not put up much of a fight. John Rollins, who has played well of late, appeared to do his best to lose in the first round and Harrington, who admittedly has not been playing well, appeared to actively participate in his own defeat. But it also has to be said the Woods is a tough competitor who can salvage halved holes from nowhere and it must be very dispiriting for any opponent.
Woods won the final at the 34th hole. Had the final been 18 holes he would not be the back-to-back winner of this event for he went in to lunch one down. If Love looked hopeful he had every reason to be so because Woods' golf was at the best mediocre and his morning start was nervy. At the first hole he hacked along the left-hand rough in a way that must have spread reassurance to every 24 handicapper and certainly gave Love grounds for optimism. At the same hole in the afternoon he was a changed man. Tiger took the 20th hole to level the match and he took three in a row after 24 to go three up, where he stayed determinedly. It took him 20 holes to start hitting fairways with any authority, but when he did the outcome of the match was never in doubt.
Darren Clarke took third place after coming from behind to beat Leaney. He collected some valuable world ranking points as well as half-a-million dollars. The $1.2 million that Tiger pocketed is his biggest winning cheque to date and should keep the jet in the air for his trip to Dubai for the Classic this week.
|| 1 - MARCH 2004