Feb
18
2014
Tuesday at the 2014 Accenture Match Play Championship
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
The drivable par-4 no. 15 at Dove Mountain
The Wednesday of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is one of the most fun and intriguing days in the PGA Tour season. Let’s call it Wacky Wednesday. Because you really never know what’s going to happen. Filling out a bracket in golf? You might as well throw darts at a board. Or pick names out of a hat.

Seedings in golf isn’t exactly comparable to that in, say, the NCAA tournament, where at least 9 out of 10 times, the top seed is going to throttle the underdog. Not so much in golf, where even Tiger Woods, who isn’t playing this week, has been upset more than once. In fact, last year both Woods and Rory McIlory were knocked out in the first round. 

The do-or-die nature of the format is also what makes the event so compelling to watch. Especially on Wacky Wednesday, where so much is happening on all parts of the course that it’s hard to keep up with the action. It’s almost anti-climactic on Sunday when there’s the finals match, along with the consolation match — which, let’s be real, is really just so TV has something to show in between the shots in the former.

This is the last year in the contract for the current sponsor, Accenture. Most players are thrilled at the opportunity for a new sponsor or even Accenture to sweep in and move the venue, as they’re not the biggest fans of Dove Mountain.

“I’d keep it here,” said McIlroy when asked where he’d like to see the event held. “I think this is perfect. It’s a good match play course — I wouldn’t want to play stroke play here, but it’s good for match play. You’re right on site, good facilities, the climate is decent most of the time — obviously last year it wasn’t. I’ve really enjoyed it here the last five years. I wouldn’t move it, but obviously people see it differently.”

Poulter, who has had success here, with a win in 2010, is indifferent — he just enjoys match play.

“It’s not up to me,” said the Englishman in his pre-tourney presser. “It’s up to the sponsors, I guess.  If it stays, great.  If not, we’ll have to get used to a new golf course, I guess.  Obviously Accenture has been in for quite some time, and they’ve done a fantastic job.  If it’s time for them to move on and someone else steps in, we’ll have to wait and see where that goes.

“I’ve got a fairly decent record here.  So if it stays, it’s good.  But I’ve got a decent match play record irrespective of it just being at Dove Mountain.  I really don’t mind where we play match play, it’s just a great format to play golf.”

What about the format? After Wednesday, half the field of 64 players will be sent home packing — some of whom have traveled across the world to compete.

“Yeah, the loser should go home,” said Poulter. “I think it’s perfect. I think it’s a great format.”

He would think so.

Poulter plays the first-round match against Rickie Fowler. Which brings us to the more important question: Who will be wearing brighter pants?

“It’s not about out-fashioning Rickie Fowler, it’s about beating him on the golf course,” he said. “I don’t care whether I’m out-fashioning him or he’s out-fashioning me.  My job is to send him home as early as possible and that’s what I will try to do.”

It’s ALL business with Poulter this week.

Meanwhile, defending champion Matt Kuchar might be a little rusty after taking a four-week vacation with his family on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kuchar, the top-10 machine, had the longest active cut streak going at 30 until he missed it last week at the Northern Trust Open, his first start back from the trip.

“I take a lot of pride in showing up and playing good golf every week,” said Kuchar in his pre-tourney presser. “I feel that’s been something I’ve been able to do, something I do take a lot of pride in. It was disappointing last week to miss the cut and miss the cut in the fashion I did.

“I don’t know if it was lack of preparation, trying to juggle the new Tour schedule with the fall, the wraparound schedule, trying to get a break, is kind of something I’m learning, and I think most of us will learn how to work it.

“I decided this year after Sony I was going to take a mini of-season, take a four-week break. We stayed in Hawaii; we basically lived the Hawaiian life. Did every activity possible, had a great time. It was not something I regret at all. It’s something I look back on as one of my favorite places we’ve been, favorite trips we’ve taken. We had an amazing stay…

“I came to LA a little under-prepared, but had a couple of meetings with my instructor Chris O’Connell, and we worked a week before the tournament on some new stuff. I put it right into play. I liked it. And I’m excited about it. I just don’t think I knew exactly the misses. I just didn’t have enough time to put something new in play…

“So I’m not real concerned. I certainly had a lot of pride in not missing a cut in over a year, but time to start a new streak, I guess.”

Previously, the last cut Kuchar missed happened at the 2012 PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, the most intriguing hole at Dove Mountain, particularly in this format? Probably the drivable par-4 15th, which comes at a potentially very crucial time in the match — many will be won and lost here.

Q.  I know this is match play, but is there a key hole on either the front nine or back nine that you think you need to do well on that is important in the match or winning the match?

HUNTER MAHAN:  Yeah, I think that drivable 15th hole is kind of an interesting hole, interesting moment.  You’ve got to  I just think a lot can happen there.  And I think a lot can turn.  I think you can see someone hit it way right and then someone hit it on the green and then someone hits it close and someone threeputts or somebody chips in.  So much can happen on that hole.  You’re really never out of that hole.  Even if you hit it in the desert, you can still get it on the green.  Maybe they don’t get up and down.  It’s a big swing hole just in terms of that kind of moment.  You’re never really out of that hole.

So that kind of seems like the way this course plays.  You’re never really out of some of these holes, you still have to keep playing, and you never know whack happen in match play.  I think that hole signifies match play to the nines.

Q.  I know this is match play, obviously, not stroke play.  But is there a hole on the back nine or coming down the stretch that you see as crucial to score on or do well on?

RORY McILROY:  Yeah, I think 15, the drivable par4, especially if it’s a tight match.  The long hitters can drive the green, maybe take advantage of it.  There’s a bunker, short right of the green that’s about 300, 305 to carry.  And I’m sure some of the long hitters will be able to carry that and it gives them a little bit of an advantage, and gives them a good chance if you hit a really good drive to get it on the green and have a chance for an eagle.  You can obviously maybe win a hole at a crucial point.  But, yeah, 15 I think is a big hole in terms of it could be a turning point in some matches.

*Meanwhile, Steve Stricker almost didn’t play this week due to a serious medical family emergency. Stricker’s brother, Scott, 50, has liver disease and was in need of a transplant.

Scott had a 10-hour surgery on Friday that went into Saturday morning.

Stricker, who arrived to Dove Mountain on Sunday morning, said it’s been tough, but his brother is doing as well as can be expected.

“The surgery went way better than what they expected, so that’s a good part of it, but today, he had a pulmonary embolism in his lungs,” said Stricker, following a practice session on the putting green. “He’s got these little battles he’s got to face every day. The doctors tell me the way it is; they don’t really tell my parents the way it is. They say he’s very sick still, even though the surgery went well. He’s still got some real issues and things to get over.”

His brother Scott has battled with illness since the early 90s when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

How close was Stricker to pulling out of the event and staying in Wisconsin?

“I was close,” he said. “As soon as the surgery went well and that he made it through very well and they felt really good about what happened, then I felt a little better about coming. (The doctors) said there’s nothing you can do, anyway. He’s not really coherent yet. He doesn’t even know what’s going on, which is a blessing in some regard. They said the liver disease he’s got just does that to you — you don’t feel anything, you don’t know what’s going on.”

Stricker said his only sibling wasn’t well enough to know or understand the situation he was in about deciding whether or not to play. However, his mom and dad, along with the doctors, urged him to make the trip to Arizona.

“Oh yeah, my mom and dad said, you should go play. Then, really, I talked with the doctors — they’re the ones I really wanted to talk to and know what it was going to be like for Scott. He’s got a long road. He’ll be in there for a couple of months, for sure, if all goes well.”

Currently, Stricker said doctors are optimistic that Scott’s path to recovery will go smoothly.

“We’re very optimistic and the doctors are very excited with the way it went,” said Stricker. “His numbers right away the next day were really good and they’ve kind of stayed there.”

*Finally, I ran into Boo Weekley finishing his practice round on the 18th green. When I asked him who he was playing on Wednesday, he said, “Rory.”

I replied, “Oh!”

Said Boo: “That’s what I said (when I found out)… but at least it’s not Zach (Johnson) or (Matt) Kuchar.”

*I lied. One more thing, for those of you in Asia, I’ll be the on-course reporter/presenter for Fox Sports International in their new post-game show the next five days bright and early starting on Thursday morning at 7am HKT.