Hard to beat mano a mano matchplay


Different StrokesThe evidence in the hallway of the Wentworth Club is compelling, littered – decorated even? – with memorabilia, mainly golf clubs that date back to the persimmon age, which are attached to the walls and provide an instant tell-tale reminder of the way things used to be.

These clubs, something of a golfing pot pourri, feature drivers used by Greg Norman, irons used by Seve Ballesteros (right) and putters used by Nick Faldo, and the common denominator is the legendary players used the clubs en route to winning the World Matchplay title over the famed Burma Road course.

Indeed, those old world matchplays at Wentworth were memorable occasions which have, as a sign of the times we live in, since moved on to pastures new, firstly to the south of Spain and, later this season, to Bulgaria, of all places.

Still, that the event has survived at all is worthwhile for matchplay is truly the greatest form of combat in the sport and there are few enough of these events on tour these days.

This week’s WGC-Accenture Matchplay in the Arizona desert differs from the old Wentworth format. For one, it is formatted to ensure the best 64 players available off the world rankings will be on the ground for the mano a mano combat.

In contrast, the world matchplay was – and remains, even since exiting the cultured environment of Wentworth – primarily an invitational affair.

There is an appeal about matchplay which brings out the best in golf, and yet – despite the Ryder Cup producing arguably the most compelling golf for spectators of any tournament – such old-fashioned, man-to-man combat is mainly a thing of the past.

There was a time when the USPGA championship was fought out in matchplay but those days came to a halt in 1957 when Lionel Hebert had the distinction of being the last to win out in this manner before it evolved into a strokeplay event like any other on tour.

Since Dow Finsterwald’s win in 1958, the US PGA has been in line with the other Majors and eked out a winner over four rounds of strokeplay.

Why has matchplay become the poor relation? Well, the simple fact of the matter is that half the field – 32 players – will exit the event at the first time of asking, with the prospect that even the biggest draws (Messrs McIlroy and Woods in this case) could be among them in a shoot-out over 18 holes.

And the reality – from sponsors and TV – is that such a scenario might well be compelling in a once-off scenario, but it wouldn’t do week-in and week-out.

So, the Accenture is what it is: something of a novelty on tour in the modern age. It is a throwback to the amateur ethos of one on one combat, but – in this day and age of 72-hole strokeplay – something of a square peg in a round hole as far as professional tournament golf is concerned. Vie la difference!

New from Softspikes

Softspikes, the number one cleat brand on tour, has announced the introduction of two new designs –Stealth and Cyclone Ice – for 2013.

Stealth, as featured in FootJoy’s new M:Project model, is specifically engineered to provide superior traction and stability.

Cyclone Ice made its debut appearance in the FootJoy XPS-1 shoe and features multi-material components with a rotational design. The new cleats are priced at €15.

Twitter talk

“Ok so looks like I’m playing número UNO in the first round. Gonna be great. Win, lose or draw I’m gonna enjoy every minute of it.”

– Shane Lowry looks on the positive side of being matched against world number one Rory McIlroy in the Accenture Matchplay.

“And so the year begins on the @PGATOUR. Heading out to Tucson for WGC Matchplay. Hopefully a long week ahead.”

– Justin Rose on preparing to hit the ground running in the desert.

“Feel very lucky and fortunate to play on the @PGATOUR what an exciting day. Many more to come. NTO is an amazing tourney. Life’s good.”

– Charlie Beljan looking on the bright side after losing a play-off to John Merrick in the Northern Trust Open.

Tipp old salt Finn tops with young Miller

Every two years, the best golfers from the Golfing Union of Ireland and the New York-based Metropolitan Golf Asociation battle it out for the Governor Hugh Carey Cup, named in honour of the Irish-American politician who was governor of the Big Apple for close on two decades.

A rather unusual offshoot of the matches was evident in Portugal last week, where GUI general secretary Pat Finn carried the bag of American bright young thing Mike Miller (right). All going well, Miller will be on the USA team that plays host to Great Britain and Ireland in the Walker Cup on Long Island in September.

The Finn-Miller connection began at the Carey Cup matches played at Bethpage in 2011, when Miller had opted out of a university scholarship, the more conventional route take by American players moving from amateur to professional.

“I can’t say enough about Pat, he’s just a down-to-earth, hysterical guy from Ireland and has opened up my eyes. He is always positive,” said Miller in explaining how the Tipperary man had impacted on him and suggested Miller should play some amateur events in Europe to broaden his horizons.

That influence – and burgeoning friendship – was shown to positive effect when Finn caddied for Miller in the Portugese Amateur championship. Miller, keeping a blog on his experience playing the amateur circuit in Europe for the MGA, wrote: “Pat has been doing a great job; aside from the fact he broke my bag, dropped a few head covers, and asked where the 5-under 31 (on the front nine in the first round) came from and why I can’t play like that all time!

In the bag

Darren Fichardt

(Africa Open)

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

Shoe: FootJoy

Driver: Callaway X Hot Pro (8.5 degree)

3 wood: Ping Anser (14.5 degree)

Utility wood: Ping Anser (17 degree)

3-7 iron: Titleist 712 CB

9-Pitching Wedge: Titleist 712 MB

Sand Wedge: Titleist Vokey SM4 (54 degree)

Lob Wedge: Titleist Vokey SM4 (60 degree)

Putter: Odyssey White Ice Sabretooth 2

Know the rules

QA ball played from off the green was about a foot from the hole and still in motion when it was moved by a dog to a spot about 10 feet from the hole. The ball was either deflected by the dog or the dog picked it up, ran with it and dropped it. What is the ruling?

If the ball was deflected, it would be played as it lay, without penalty, from the spot to which it was moved by the dog (Rule 19-1).

If the dog picked up the ball, the player should have placed the ball, without penalty, as near as possible to the spot where the original ball was when the dog picked it up (Rule 19-1a).

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