There’s just something about match play that gets the competitive juices flowing. Sure, golf is unique against any other sport in the fact that most of the time, we’re playing against the course and conditions. But give me the match play format either as a competitor or viewer and I’m a happy golfer.
The format received a boost this past week and weekend with the playing of the WGC Match Play Championship on the PGA Tour. And, as usual, golf fans weren’t disappointed. They were treated to all that match play has to offer.
That got me thinking. In the amateur game, where match play is seen more than at the professional level, what are some of the memorable matches that stick out? Which matches do we remember from the game’s top amateur competitions?
For starters, a guy named Eldrick Woods was engaged in some memorable match play performances.
Before he took over the PGA Tour by storm, Tiger Woods was undoubtedly the most dominant amateur golfer of his era. Among his 21 national amateur victories were three spectacular U.S. Amateur victories.
In 1994, Woods beat Trip Kuehne 2-up after crawling out of a deep hole late in the match at TPC Sawgrass. Kuehne led by six after the morning round in the championship match and was five holes down with 12 remaining before Woods staged the biggest comeback in tournament history. He won 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 before nailing a 15-footer on No. 17 to close out the memorable comeback.
The next year, Woods beat Buddy Marucci in spectacular fashion. The shotmaking we’ve become accustomed to was on full display that day at Newport Country Club, including a stick-a-fork-in-it 8-iron from 140 yards out on the 36th hole that landed to 18 inches and converted any non-believers onto the Tiger bandwagon.
In 1996, less than a year before he’d win his first major in thrilling fashion at the 1997 Masters, Tiger beat Steve Scott in 38 holes at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon. It was another comeback victory for Tiger, who trailed by five shots during the match. Perhaps the most memorable hole from the match was the 34th where Scott showed Woods an act of sportsmanship that may have cost him the match. On the 16th green, Woods forgot to replace his ball-marker after moving it out of Scott’s line. Scott reminded Woods the need to put his marker back to its original spot, an act that, if forgotten, would have cost him the hole and Scott would’ve won 3-and-2.
But, as we see so many times in match play -- including Jack Nicklaus’ famous ‘concession’ to Tony Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup -- sportsmanship and etiquette took precedence.
Indeed, Woods’ three straight victories at the U.S. Amateur encompassed all that match play has to offer. And, while it’s up for debate whether Woods should have been in the field this past weekend at the WGC Match Play, it’s very clear that he -- and his competitors --- gave golf fans plenty to remember with our favorite format.