At first glance many golf fans might assume that the WGC-Accenture Match Play is a grueling 108-hole match-play event where the winner has to defeat the top 64 players in the world.
Many might even consider this event to be the most difficult tournament to win in all of golf.
But that is by no means the case.
In fact, the path to victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play championship is far easier than any of the other WGCs, majors or even strong-fielded PGA and European Tour events.
Because to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship a player only needs to defeat six other players in a match-play format.
Players are not competing against the top 64 players in the world in this event. They are competing against six out of the top 64, and for those top seeded players, their path to victory will likely include two to three lower-ranked players before they actually have to start competing against some of the other top ranked players in the field.
And here’s another real kicker: a player doesn’t even have to shoot a better score than his opponent in order to win his match and advance in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
A player could shoot a 75 to his opponent’s 71 and still win the match.
A player could post three triple bogeys during the course of a round and still advance.
Within a match-play format, a player only needs to win more holes than his opponent. If a player cards a 14 on a par-four, it makes little difference in the grand scheme of things as the result will simply be one lost hole.
“When it comes down to it, you just want to beat the guy in front of you, you don’t have to beat the whole field,” WGC-Accenture Match Play defending champion Hunter Mahan said Monday afternoon. “Whatever score that is that you have to shoot that day, that’s what you have to shoot.”
Stroke or medal play events, which is the format used for every other WGC, all four majors and virtually every other PGA and European Tour events, provides a significantly more difficult challenge than the WGC-Accenture Match Play event.
To win a major championship a player has to defeat 165 of the best players on the planet over the course of 72 holes.
To win the WGC-Cadillac Championship, which will take place next month at Doral, a player will need to defeat the top 74 players in the world over the course of 72 holes.
If a player cards an eight on a par four at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, he doesn’t simply lose a hole, he will likely drop 15 places on the leaderboard and be forced to play the rest of the event in four-under-par just to get back to where he was.
Of course, the flip side of that when it comes to match play is that redemption is more difficult to come by. If a player happens to be off his game on the first day of the event he could be eliminated before even having the chance to post a better score and get himself back into contention.
“It’s a weird format,” Louis Oosthuizen said. “It’s a completely different one where if you have a bad day, you can’t come back the next one and have a low round to get yourself back in the event.”
But, even if a participant does happen to have a bad day during the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, he will still only be eliminated if his opponent for that particular day happens to have a better day.
A player could legitimately post the second-worst score of anyone in the field during one round this week and still advance to the next round, so long as the worst score of the day happens to come from his match-play opponent.
Match-play events can be exciting and provide for good television (if the big-name stars happen advance far enough into the event), as it has through the years with the Ryder Cup.
But there are two reasons why we don’t see more match-play events held in professional golf.
The first is that television networks hate the risk associated with match play events. If Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are limited from the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday, the ratings will inevitably take a nose dive over the next four days of the event.
The second reason is basically what has been described in this article—the match-play format by no means identifies the best golfer in the field during any given week; it only identifies the golfer that was better than the six opponents he happened to face off against during the event.
So yes, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship has a March Madness feel to it that can be a refreshing change from the standard 72-hole stroke play events seen week-in and week-out.
But there is also a very good chance that the last man standing on Sunday afternoon will not be the best player in the field this week, which is a rarity in professional golf and the main reason why this is a one-time deal on the PGA Tour each season.