There are many reasons why I love match play but let's start with the obvious - It's a different format and feel to things compared with the 72-hole stroke play tournaments we see each week on tour. Its uniqueness is appealing and gives the golfing calendar an extra dimension. I would love to see more match play events in the schedule, but perhaps the allure is their infrequency, so why change?
You only have to look at the Ryder Cup to see how many golf fans love match play, and not just golf fans either. Many tune into the biennial contest because it really is sporting theatre at it's very best. In strokeplay, the back nine on Sunday is where we witness the real drama, up until that point, the pros are putting themselves in position to have a shot at the title down the stretch. With match play, there's no working your way into contention, you either win your first match or it's home time. Ian Poulter, a superb exponent of the art of match play, and winner in Arizona in 2010, has described his love of the format many times over. The reason for his success: "I have that complete intensity and focus from the very first tee shot."
Most weeks on Tour it's the professional golfer against the course. Yes you're trying to beat the rest of the field, but you're not directly competing against anyone. It's about shooting the lowest score possible. Match play is the ultimate head to head battle, a fierce gladiatorial contest. There's passion, focus, rivalry, excitement, tactics, strategy, and dare I say it (in the most gentlemanly of sports) sometimes a sprinkling of gamesmanship.
Golfers share an awful lot of camaraderie on tour and some genuine friendships develop. Just look at McDowell and McIlory, Clarke and Westwood, Rose and Poulter, to name a few. The friendships and team spirit have undoubtedly contributed to a lot of Europe's success at the Ryder Cup. The European team wants nothing more than to play and win for each other and their captain, there is no 'I' in team remember! In match play it's good friends trying to knock each other out of the tournament, and that as a golf fan is great to watch.
Two members of the Hambric sports management company, Francesco Molinari and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, are pitted against each other in Round One. Jokey 'Twitpics' have been in circulation ahead of their opening encounter; even their wives have been enjoying the banter! It'll be intriguing to watch the competitive nature between the two when it comes to 'game time'!
On the topic of sharing management stables, there's a fascinating all 'Horizon Sports' match-up between Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry. They'll put respect and friendship aside as they do battle at Dove Mountain, but it's the world number one with everything to lose and Lowry with everything to gain. Add to that the extra pressure McIlroy is under following his multi-million dollar switch to Nike and subsequent missed cut in Abu Dhabi.
It's the unpredictability, which makes match play so entertaining. The well-used adage, anybody can beat anybody on any given day, certainly rings true for match play golf. It's a fickle format as the defending champion Hunter Mahan summed up at the start of this week: "You can be playing great and playing as good as anybody coming in here and lose in the first round because somebody got hot that day and played better than you", Mahan said.
With that in mind I'm picking Charl Schwartzel and Justin Rose to do well this week, but in reality who knows! And that's the wonderful thing!
Sky Sports coverage details:
Round One, Wednesday 20 February
LIVE: 5.00pm-11.00pm - Sky Sports 1HD
Round Two, Thursday 21 February
LIVE: 6.00pm-11.00pm - Sky Sports 2HD
Round Three, Friday 22 February
LIVE: 7.00pm-11.00pm - Sky Sports 3HD
Quarter Finals, Saturday 23 February
LIVE: 5.00pm-11.00pm - Sky Sports 3HD
Semi Finals / Third Place Play-off / Final, Sunday 24 February
LIVE: 2.00pm-11.00pm - Sky Sports 2HD
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