AUSTIN — The often mundane nature of stroke play dies in Texas this week.
Welcome to March Madness, PGA Tour style, where the victor is measured not in total strokes over four days but in total holes won over five days.
Where a mano-a-mano confrontation exists from the first hole on Wednesday through the last hole on Sunday, a challenge that turns gentle souls into angry beasts and alters most everyone’s approach over the golf ball.
Welcome to the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.
“I think stroke play is a little bit more consistent when it comes down to seeing who the better player is,” said Sergio Garcia, who was in a titanic Ryder Cup battle last year against Phil Mickelson in which the two combined for 19 birdies but neither won the match. “But this is fun. It’s different and we definitely enjoy it. … At the same time, it can be really frustrating, because you could play a great round, kind of like the Ryder Cup last year. I could have shot 8-under and lost my match. And then sometimes you shoot 2-over and you win your match. So it is a lot more up and down.”
The field of 64 at Austin Country Club is split into 16 four-player pods, with round-robin play within each group the first three days determining the Sweet 16. From there it’s win and advance and loser goes home, until one player remains standing on Sunday.
Last year it was Jason Day, who became No. 1 in the world with his victory in the Lone Star State. Two years ago, Rory McIlroy was No. 1 when he won at Harding Park north of San Francisco.
“I think a ruthless streak,” McIlroy said when asked what makes for a good player in match play. “And pride. I’m too proud to be beaten. So that’s why I’ve always enjoyed match play because if you do get yourself into a bit of a dogfight out there, it’s something I’ve always quite enjoyed.”
Even if he comes out on the wrong end of the fight. Last year McIlroy lost to Patrick Reed, 1 up, in the first singles match on Sunday in the USA’s 17-11 victory against Europe in the Ryder Cup. The two combined for seven birdies and an eagle through the first eight holes and jolted the Richter scale.
“There is some unfinished business there that I would like to clear up,” McIlroy said. “If we were to face each other on Saturday or Sunday that would be awesome. Something I’d really look forward to, to try to beat him by more than one hole, just so I have a little bit of an edge. It’s sort of the way it is.
“Getting beaten in singles of Ryder Cup stings. But it was a pleasure to be a part of that match because of the people who will remember that for a long time. I wasn’t on the winning side of it, but it was still cool to be a part of.”
Unlike stroke play, in match play, ugly can be OK.
“In order to win a match play event, which I’ve done going back to U.S. Juniors, you’ve got to squeak out one or two wins where it wasn’t very pretty,” Jordan Spieth said. “That’s kind of how it works in this event. Guys aren’t running away with it. And you don’t get lucky with the guy across from you not playing his best. You meet a guy when he’s playing great and you’re playing great and you have to win that match. And then if you’re off, if they’re a little off, you have to find something in you that allows you to win it.”
PHOTOS: 2016-17 PGA TOUR WINNERS