Match play format undeniably favors Woods

February, 21, 2009

When assessing when and where he would make his 2009 season debut, maybe Tiger Woods did what any of the rest of us would do when confronted with the same predicament. Maybe he fished through the kitchen drawers for a pen, then ripped off a paper towel on which to write. Maybe he sat down and started scribbling away, drawing a line down the middle, then scrawling "PROS" at the top of one column and "CONS" at the top of the other. Maybe this was how he came to his final decision.

Eh, maybe not.

Whatever the case, that won't stop me from making a list that likely echoes Tiger's thought process behind his recent announcement.

PRO: He loves this format.
Woods might be the world's preeminent stroke-play competitor, but his match-play prowess is even more astounding. Consider the numbers: He owns a 31-6 career record at the Match Play, is 6-3-1 in Ryder and Presidents Cup singles matches, has an 11-1 mark in PGA Tour playoffs and was a three-time U.S. Amateur champion from 1994 through 1996.

This style also should suit Woods in his return. As opposed to at the WGC-CA Championship at Doral, which is a 72-hole stroke-play event, he'll be able to play off his adrenaline, knowing how much every shot matters, right from the start.

"Hopefully, I can get into the flow of the round very quickly," he said Friday. "It helps that it is match play, and that each hole is basically an individual match. So it pays to get off to a quick start with match play, and hopefully that's what I can do."

CON: He could play a lot of golf.
For a guy who hasn't been walking 18 holes every day -- or so he says -- Tiger could be spending an awful lot of time on his feet if he keeps advancing.

Each of the first three rounds includes one 18-hole match per day (not to mention the potential of sudden-death extra holes). On Saturday, there are 18-hole quarterfinals in the morning and 18-hole semifinals in the afternoon. Advance all the way to the finals, and you're looking at a 36-hole championship match.

Add it up, and that's a potential of at least 126 total holes in five days, with up to 72 on the weekend alone.

Tiger's outlook on such an issue?

"Well," he said with a laugh, "I'd like to have that problem."

Live Blog: Match Play Edition

Jason Sobel Can't be near a television during Tiger's comeback round Wednesday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship? No problem. Tune in for Jason Sobel's live blog for the duration of Woods' return to the PGA Tour. Golf

PRO: Only one opponent per round.
Tiger has never been bashful about his main objective when entering a tournament. He wants the hardware; nothing else will suffice.

Well, that might be an easier accomplishment at the Match Play, where each player ostensibly controls his own destiny.

Unlike a stroke play event, in which Woods would have to defeat 80 or more players in a WGC field, in this tourney, he'll need only beat one opponent per round. If Tiger can defeat six of those opponents, he'll be the champ yet again.

CON: It's a brand-new golf course.
For the first time this year, the Match Play event will be contested on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Ritz-Carlton GC, just down the street from The Gallery at Dove Mountain, which hosted the past two editions.

It's an unknown variable -- and Woods doesn't like unknown variables.

Then again, it's an unknown for everyone else, too.

"I don't know how the golf course is going to be playing, what kind of speed they'll have with that. I know generally in the match play terms I've played there in Tucson, they've had pins that are pretty difficult," he said. "We'll see what they do on this golf course, whether this golf course will allow it or not."

A comeback at Doral would have meant four days on a fairly flat course he knows all too well, having won there in 2005, '06 and '07.

PRO: Another start before the Masters.
What will Tiger's schedule consist of before teeing it up in the first round of the Masters on April 9? He addressed this question Friday.

"One of the frustrating things is that I really haven't been able to make up my schedule like I normally do," said Woods, who's missed only one likely start (the Buick Invitational) so far this season. "So I've got to take this tournament by tournament. You know, I would like to play certain tournaments, yes. But I don't know how this thing's going to behave in a competitive environment and how the recovery is going to be day-to-day. So that's one of the things I'm looking forward to testing how that feels."

Tiger Tracker

Tiger Woods Get all the latest news about the world's No. 1 golfer as he works his way back from reconstructive knee surgery. Tiger Tracker

For argument's sake, let's say everything goes according to plan. Woods likely will follow the Match Play by taking a week off, then playing at Doral, taking another week off, then playing at Bay Hill and then taking another week off before making the drive down Magnolia Lane to Augusta National. Three events -- each with a week off in between -- should give him more than enough competitive rounds to feel comfortable entering his pursuit of a fifth green jacket.

CON: Cross-country travel.
Look, TWA -- that's Tiger Woods Airlines, folks -- never has a problem getting Woods to where he needs to be. And yes, he traveled cross-country at least a handful of times in the past four or five months anyway.

Keep in mind, however, that Woods is a new father for the second time. He likely will land in Tucson on the date of Charlie's two-week birthday -- not an easy time to leave the family behind. At Doral, he could have brought 'em along, parking his yacht, Privacy, right down the road, making for an easy entrance and exit each day.

Instead, he'll be flying solo. Just because he's a great golfer and mega-rich doesn't mean Woods won't feel the pangs of guilt for leaving his family behind for a week.

PRO: He's ready.
It's tougher to break into Camp Woods than Fort Knox, so we never know exactly what Tiger is thinking or how he is progressing. That said, if past history has taught us anything, we should understand by now that he's about two steps ahead of where we think he is.

Case in point: On Friday, I asked Woods if, hypothetically, wife Elin hadn't been pregnant and son Charlie (born Feb. 8) hadn't been due, would he have played sooner than next week.

"Probably, yes," he said. Perhaps at Torrey Pines? "I don't know. I don't know that. That's all speculative."

Yes, it is. But there is no greater boon to the "PRO" side of such a list than this.

In fact, it might have been the only one he needed.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for He can be reached at

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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