Is there a better format than match play?

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The end of March is always an exciting time in the golfing world, as viewers are treated to their first match play event of the year. Indeed, when the 64 best players in the world head to Austin for the WGC-Dell Match Play, there is a tremendous sense of enthusiasm from both the players and fans as the usual stroke play events are cast aside for the week.

It really is a refreshing change to proceedings on both the PGA and European Tour, where the monotony of stroke play can begin to wear down the viewer at home. The match play format levels the playing field and minimises the damage that one bad hole can have on a player’s round; whereas, in stroke play, one wayward swing has the potential to send a player from the top of the leaderboard tumbling down into the middle of the pack.

There’s something quite satisfying about watching a player putting a handful of balls into the water and notching up a 12 and only going one down to his opponent who managed to birdie the same hole. The very nature of match play means that a player can right the wrongs within a hole, even if they looked unsure as to what side of the golf club to hold moments before.

In many ways, match play highlights the psychological aspect of golf, which plays such a significant part in deciding a winner. From the depths of despair, a player can hack it out from the most overgrown part of the course to save par and, by doing so, gain the mental advantage going forward after their opponent had already written off their chances.

The perfect example would be Bryson DeChambeau’s miraculous up-and-down during the first round of the 2019 WGC which looked to completely and utterly demolish the spirit of his opponent, Russell Knox. He divides opinion does old Bryson, with his slow play and analytical approach to the game, but he often delivers the unthinkable, and this improbable par save will once again have his critics scratching their heads in bewilderment.

That’s match play for you, where the unexpected often happens, which is why it captures the imagination of golf fans the world over. With only three weeks to go before the best players in the world make the best drive in golf up Magnolia Lane, the match play test in Austin does a lot to ready the players for the Masters.

Historically, there’s been no rule that says a player needs to win in Texas to have a chance of winning the Masters but it does help to arrive at Augusta in good form. Rory McIlroy will be wanting to do so and he’ll hope the bookies have it right by pricing him as the favourite. That’s the way Paddy Power sees it anyway with the Northern Irishman at 7/1 to win the Masters and, by doing so, also the Grand Slam.

 


Until the 29-year-old does, the narrative will continue to only be about him in the build-up to the Masters, which suggests it will take a Herculean effort to put the noise to one side and win that elusive Green Jacket.

The back nine on Sunday at Augusta does, in a lot of ways, feel like a match play event, with the first player to blink often the one unable to hold their nerve. There may not be a better format than match play but there are few things that beat the intensity that a Sunday at the Masters brings.

 

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