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Horses For Courses

There are certain players who are so suited to a particular course that they dominate there. Proof of that are Sam Snead winning 8 tournaments at the Greater Greensboro Open, Tiger Woods’ seven wins at Firestone CC, and a further 6 each at Doral, Bay Hill and Torrey Pines and Jack Nicklaus’s 6 victories at Augusta.

Similarly there are players that play their best golf in certain time span. An example of which is Mark O’Meara who won 9 of his 16 Tour titles over a two month time-span from early January to early  March.  Other players blaze brilliantly for a year or two over a long career. Hall of Famer, Johnny Miller won 15 of his 25 titles in a two and half year period from early 1974 to the middle of 1976.

And there are certain players who relish the ‘hand-to-hand’ arena that is Match Play.

Larry Nelson is the only player in the history of the Ryder Cup to have a perfect 5-0 record in a single Cup match (where five matches is the maximum that a player can play) in 1979 and finished with a career record in the Ryder Cup of 9-3-1 (he would play on two more teams). The late Spanish superstar, Seve Ballesteros, who compiled a career record of 20-12-5 while being the catalyst for Europe to finally overcome the US dominance in the event. Colin Montgomerie, who was the pre-eminent European golfer for much of the 90’s and the early part of this century, notoriously came up short in several Major Championships (he never won one). In the Ryder Cup though, he was ferocious and has amassed a superb career record of 20-9-7.

This brings us to the WGC Accenture World Matchplay Championships that end today in Dove Valley, Arizona.

Three of the four semi-finalists seem to elevate their games to another level in Match Play. None of them have won a Major Championship yet, but they all seem to thrive in this environment.

Englishman, Ian Poulter, who has perhaps become the modern day Seve for his inspirational play in the Ryder Cup, won the event in 2010. The dapper Poulter was a perfect 4-0 in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah and almost single-handedly roused the European team from certain defeat to their improbable come from behind victory. Over the last four years, he has amassed an amazing record of 19-3-2 in Match Play around the world to 19-3-2.

He will face American, Hunter Mahan, in the first semi-final. Mahan is the defending Champion of the event. A victory again would as leave Mahan in some heady company, joining Tiger Woods as the only players to have won back to back Accenture Championships. After his victory in Saturday’s quarter-final over reigning US Open Champion, Webb Simpson, Mahan has now won a staggering 11 matches in a row at the Accenture. Over the last two years, he now has gone 151 consecutive holes at the Match Play Championship without trailing.

In the other semi-final, American Matt Kuchar plays against Australian phenom, Jason Day. This will be the second time in 3 years that the steady Kuchar will play in the semi-finals. Kuchar has an 11-3 record in three World Match Play events and seems to very quietly thrive in the format. The softly spoken Kuchar candidly admits that in order to join the select company that occupies the upper echelons of the game that he needs to win Majors. The Match Play is not a Major but is in the next tier down of events in which the World’s best players all compete. A win for him here may just be the catalyst that allows him to become a super-star.

Day is making a comeback of sorts at the ripe old age of 25. The gifted Aussie wowed the golf world by been a runner-up in two Major Championships in what was a halcyon year for him in 2011. Since then he has struggled (by his own admission he did not practice or commit himself as much as he should have) but now appears to be recapturing his form. He has bested some of the games’ best players in his run so far, with wins over Tour Rookie sensation, Russell Henley, and a trio of Major Champions, Zack Johnson, Bubba Watson and Graeme McDowell.

Given that the WGC is always played at this time of year and for the past several years at Dove Mountain, all three factors (course, time of year and format) would seem to be key ingredients to the success of the remaining four “horsemen”.