For many casual golf fans, the first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play championship was a disaster.
Top seed Rory McIlroy lost to No. 64 seed Shane Lowry. Second-seeded Tiger Woods lost to No. 63 seed Charles Howell III.
The two best players in the game were one-and-done.
If you were dreaming of a spectacular championship match between McIlroy and Woods, you got smacked in the face. The golfing Gods were laughing...loudly.
McIlroy and Woods both lost in the opening round and the two leading figures in the tournament were both sent packing.
No second chance. No second round to make up for a non-winning performance.
To some, that may serve as an indictment for the match play format. You don't get to see the game's elite players compete for more than one round? That's ridiculous.
No it isn't. That's called competition, and the best golfers don't get a free pass merely because of past accomplishments.
Instead, you have to go out and earn it if you want to play.
That's the beauty of match play. It is golf's purest competition. One-on-one, hole by hole.
Match play gives the "other guy" a great chance to compete and win against the best golfers. Since cumulative scores don't matter a bit, a golfer could actually lose on the scorecard by 10 shots or more and still win in match play.
If Woods had beaten Howell by four strokes on the first hole and Howell had taken the second hole by a single stroke, the match would have been even. Woods would not have any advantage for dominating on the hole he won and Howell would not have been penalized for merely squeaking by on his hole.
The match could continue in that patter for nearly the entire match. If Howell had won one more hole than Woods, that would have given him the match.
It didn't work out that way. The seemingly overmatched Howell played well early in the round and gained the confidence to play with Woods. The match was all square going into the 15th hole, and Howell put a 136-yard approach shot six inches from the hole (source: Golf.com).
That gave him an easy birdie and when Woods missed his chip shot, Howell had the lead. He also won the 16th to go two up and then he closed Woods out on the 17th to win 2-and-1.
That's the beauty of match play. When the favored player does not run off to a big lead early, the underdog's confidence grows.
Match play gives everybody a chance to compete on an even playing field and the PGA should have more of it in the future.
It works out well in the Ryder Cup and other unique competitions. Giving the PGA at least one more match play championship later in the year would not hurt the game and would give the top golfers in the world a chance to show their competitive instincts in this underrated, nearly forgotten format.