Tiger’s Key To Match Play

Aaron Ungvarsky

Aaron Ungvarsky

PGA of America Professional, SwingU Instructor

The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, this week’s PGA Tour event, has seen some incredible shots over the years. Hole-outs from Webb Simpson, Jim Furyk, and the most clutch hole-in-one in Tour history by Jonathan Byrd to end a 4-hole playoff.

The shot or series of shots that stands out most in the history of this event came from Tiger Woods in 1996. No, it was not a single miraculous swing that puts the ball at the bottom of the cup, but rather how he played the first playoff hole against Davis Love III to get his first victory on the PGA Tour.

Tiger hit the Tour with brash and aggressive play. However, his poise and measured approach to win the playoff is worth noting.

A smooth swing off the tee showed that he was looking to place the drive instead of swinging for power. Love was actually longer off the tee in the playoff, showing that Tiger did dial it back a bit. Then, on the approach by Woods, the announcers comment the ball is a little right. I believe that ball is right where he wanted!

He was first to play into the green and needed to find the putting surface, which would put pressure on Love’s approach shot. The conservative play forced Love to play to get equal or closer than Tiger’s 20-putt coming up.

Instead, Love played his shot long and left into a greenside bunker. As a result, the downhill lie forced Davis to play long of the hole and left a par putt that was about seven feet in length. Tiger two-putted, applying the pressure and the rest is history.

So, what can you learn from Tiger’s playoff win? Well, to get into the playoff Tiger had to make more birdies in four days than most golfers make in a season, yet he played smart and safe when it came to a 1-on-1 situation.

In match play, you play the course and the opponent. Since Tiger was first to play he planned for conservative approaches and made sure he did not beat himself and also kept alive his chances to beat his opponent if he happened to hit better shots.

Remember, don’t beat yourself before the match has a chance to unfold. If it requires you taking less club or playing safe into the green be disciplined and execute that shot. Live to fight another day, or play another hole!