Insider: Five keys to match play success

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Matt Kuchar's on-course temperament could be an advantage this week.
February 19, 2013
Fred Albers

MARANA, Ariz.—Match Play. We don’t see it often on the PGA TOUR. It does not always make for the best television of the year. Its volatile format, over 18 holes, does not always produce the matchups we’d like to see in the championship.

Match Play is a different animal.

It’s like holding a stick of dynamite in your hand trying to contain the explosion without getting hurt.

It’s wonderful.

All the above is 100 percent true. I guarantee Wednesday at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship will be one of the more enjoyable days of the season. Someone will play poorly and advance, there will also be a golfer who plays great and is eliminated.

Let’s look at five key components for success this week.

Mental toughness

Show me a golfer who doesn’t have a mean streak, and I’ll show you a weak competitor. --Lee Trevino

In stroke play, when you make a mess of a single hole your week can be done. In match play, the most you can lose is a single hole at a time. You are never out of a match and the good player has the tenacity to realize it’s 18 separate single-hole matches that will produce a win each round. You have to put both adversity and success behind you as you tee it up on every hole. There are several mentally tough players on the PGA TOUR but I like the way Graeme McDowell plays with a scowl on his face during match play.

Accuracy

There is an old saying: if a man comes home with sand in his cuffs and cockleburs in his pants, don’t ask him what he shot. --Sam Snead

I am to the point where I rarely look at “fairways in regulation” numbers during most weeks on the PGA TOUR. This week is different. I don’t care if your opponent hits it farther than you, as long as your ball is in the fairway. In fact, I think it might even be an advantage to be just a bit shorter in match play because then you are hitting first into the green. If you can hit first and hit the green, it puts tremendous pressure on your opponent.  David Toms ranked 174th on TOUR in driving distance last year but was 3rd in accuracy. Toms is very dangerous at match play because he keeps his ball in play every hole and that puts unrelenting pressure on every opponent.

Karma

Golf is not, and never has been, a fair game.--Jack Nicklaus

There is always an element of luck to the game of golf. Rub of the green. Good shots produce bad results and bad shots can have a good ending. With an 18-hole format, good and bad luck will play a factor this week. How can you conjure up good karma?  Earl Hickey is still searching for that answer. I don’t know if it really makes a difference, but it seems players who constantly smile on the golf course seem to get good breaks. Nobody smiles more than Matt Kuchar.

Scrambling

The secret of golf is to turn three shots into two. --Bobby Jones

There is nothing more demoralizing in match play than to hit a quality shot onto the green, have your opponent miss the putting surface and then watch as he chips-in for birdie. Ask Greg Norman. Tom Kite once said you should always expect your opponent to make every shot. If it goes in the cup, you were prepared for the result, if it misses you feel you caught a break. There is never anything lucky about a player scrambling his way around a golf course. It’s the result of hard practice and nobody practices his short game more than Luke Donald.

Putting

Never concede the putt that beats you. --Harry Vardon

Nothing trumps a hot putter. You can hit all the fairways and greens you want but the best putter is going to win. Geoff Ogilvy is wonderful at match play and told me the secret to winning is making eight-foot putts. A putter is like a giant eraser; it can eliminate all the previous mistakes on a hole and rewrite the ending. I have always thought Fredrik Jacobsen would make a great Ryder Cup player. He doesn’t get the chance to play for Europe because he concentrates on the PGA TOUR but he’s in the field this week and Jacobsen will be a very dangerous opponent.

Observations

Adjustment: Many players in the field will have competed during the west coast swing, putting on poa annua greens. This week will be different with bent grass. The ball will hug the putting surface and green speed will be more consistent. The greens at Riviera for The Northern Trust Open were running 13 on the Stimpmeter. This week, the greens will be slower. There are too many undulations in the putting surfaces to accommodate excessive green speeds.

Fifteenth hole: The 15th hole is a 343-yard downhill par four that is drivable in the desert air. It comes at a perfect time in matches, when players are trying to close things out or trying to rally. You will frequently see this hole halved with birdies and it provides wonderful drama at a critical juncture of competition.

Undulations:  The greens at Dove Mountain can be severe. They are large with lots of movement. Some players will say too much movement. The 8th green is 41 paces long with ledges and slope. Officials struggle to find enough different hole locations that are on somewhat level ground. The green complexes might be borderline for stroke play competition but make for interesting strategy in match play.

Winner, winner: Charl Schwartzel was a wounded warrior last year. He tore an abdominal muscle and took a long time to recover. The South African is finally healthy, playing well and is stronger than ever. Schwartzel weighs 140 pounds and averaged more than 305 yards per drive at the Northern Trust Open last week.  He finished second at the Joburg Open and third at the DP World Tour Championship. He uses that momentum to win the World Golf Championships, Accenture Match Play Championship.

Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.

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