What the heck is match play?

matchplay.jpgAmidst all the fanfare around Tiger’s return at the Accenture Match Play Championship, a question came my way today regarding what exactly match play is.  And that’s understandable.  If you’re a casual golfer, or just a casual golf fan, you may not be familiar with match play and the system of scoring involved.  It is, however, pretty easy to follow.

Match play is a way of scoring competitive golf in which you’re not counting the number of strokes made each round, per se, but the number of holes won by each respective player during a round.  In a tournament format, players are paired against other players in a bracket system, and the loser of each pairing is knocked out of the tournament.  Such is the case this weekend in Arizona.

Each hole is either won by a player, or halved (tied).  Each hole won is counted as a point.  For the WGC event this weekend, the final scoring consists of a statement of the difference in holes won, and the number of holes remaining.  For instance, let’s look at the pairing today with the largest margin of victory; Anthony Kim vs. Wen-Tang Lin of Taiwan.

Both Kim and Lin pared the first hole; a par 4.  This means that they halved the hole.  After one hole, the match was “all square.”  On the par 5 second, however, Kim birdied while Lin pared.  Kim won the hole, an was thus “1 up” or “up 1.”  After that, Kim won the 4th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 12th, and 13th holes with all of others leading up to the 13th being halved. After the 13th, Kim was up 7 on Lin, and there were only 5 holes to go.  With the point being reached where Lin could not make up the deficit by winning all remaining holes, the match ended.  Kim had won “7 and 5,” meaning he was leading by 7 with 5 holes to go when the match came to a close.

If a match is decided on the 18th hole, then the score is stated as “1 up” for the winner of the match.

There is one other way that you’ll see a score listed this weekend, and that occurs when a match is tied after 18 holes.  These matches require additional holes to be played to decide a winner. The score is then stated as the the number of holes played.   For instance, Phil Mickelson defeated Angel Cabrera after playing one additional hole when their match was tied after then 18th hole.  The victory is stated on the bracket as “19 holes” with Mickelson declared the winner.

Match play golf is great to watch.  Some players excel in this type of format, while others wilt under the “one and out” tournament pressure.  Regardless of how things turn out this weekend, hopefully you’ll enjoy the event a little more understanding why you can’t find Tiger’s stroke total on any leaderboard.

To keep up to date on the Accenture Match Play Championship bracket, visit pgatour.com for real-time updates.

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