As Tiger Woods returns (and exits early), Geoff Ogilvy runs his event record to a stellar 17-2 and wins another Match Play

Geoff Ogilvy

By Sunday lunch: Ogilvy had taken charge of the final against Casey, building a 3-up lead in the morning 18 en route to claiming his second Match Play victory in four years.

March 9, 2009

The new home looks a lot like the old home, which shouldn't be confused with the home before that. Same desert terrain, slightly higher elevation, although the mountains are no prettier up close than they were last year, when the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was held a few miles down the hill.

What this part of Arizona doesn't lack is high-end, high-altitude real estate, most of it residential, with an upscale hotel due to open in December. When the new economy behaves more like the old economy, some folks might even splurge on a room.

Ten years have passed since Jeff Maggert beat Andrew Magee in the inaugural playing of this event, which created immense excitement upon its inception but, like America's fiscal health, turned out to be a mirage. Credit Geoff Ogilvy for providing us with another weekend void of drama. By coasting bogey-free through his last 57 holes at the Ritz-Carlton GC at Dove Mountain and by shooting the equivalent of 12 under in a 4-and-3 triumph over Paul Casey, Ogilvy nullified any chance this poor tournament might enjoy even an hour of Sunday suspense.

To call it the finest finishing kick in Match Play history wouldn't be a stretch. "I beat some really good players and played really, really well the last three or four days," said the Aussie who rarely treats himself to such praise. "I played better and better in each round, made a really nice progression, which is something that doesn't happen very often in golf."

In claiming this title for the second time in four years and winning his third WGC event, Ogilvy happily will accept his new position as director of buzzkill, which takes us to another rare occurrence. Just two of the 11 championship matches have made it to the 36th hole. Both involved players with little name recognition: Maggert and Magee in 1999, Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron three years later.

You can't bust a journeyman's chops for beating five opponents and earning the right to compete for the biggest paycheck of his life, but a two-man Sunday show needs starpower to grow, and to that end, the law of averages has not been kind to the Match Play. The Tiger Woods-Davis Love III tilt in 2004 remains the lone title duel to feature No. 1 seeds. In fact, Love is the only top seed other than Woods to make an appearance in a final.

The list of bigshots who have never made it past the quarterfinals is awfully impressive: Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh head that cast. Ernie Els has advanced to the semis just once, and that was in 2001, when the Match Play ventured to Australia and more than half of those who qualified, many of them Americans, didn't make the trip.

If the closely contested Sundays have featured no-name players, the infrequent matchups of top-tier talent have produced blowouts. Of course, we're talking about a couple of problems that can't be solved, although the golf gods could see it in their hearts to grant this event a run of compelling homestretches—a couple of the game's marquee millionaires trading birdies all the way to the clubhouse.

It's kind of like our economy. You shouldn't hold your breath.

All of this serves as background, perhaps even a partial explanation, for why Tiger's return from knee surgery was the biggest deal in Match Play history, even if mainstream media interest doesn't count for much. Forget the first decade's lack of unforgettable moments, or that this WGC can't even make it to the office water cooler on Monday morning.

Woods' presence after eight months away amounted to golf's biggest comeback since Ben Hogan returned from an auto accident nearly 60 years ago. Sixty hours and 32 holes later, TW had been bounced from the bracket along with 15 other second-round losers, an inglorious end to a week when nobody knew what to expect, although few had him getting knocked out by a guy who remains winless in 177 career starts on the PGA Tour.

Tim Clark didn't just beat Woods. He won five of the last six holes, four of them with birdies, to turn a tight bout into a rout. That world-famous intimidation hadn't made it back from vacation. "I've played with Tiger a few times, and it's one of those things where you either let it get the best of you or you thrive on it," Clark said. "If you worry about it, it's certainly going to hurt you."

At least publicly, Woods had no problems with the way he played in either of his matches: a 3-and-2 victory over Australian Brendan Jones, which earned him the unhappy handshake on the 16th green with Clark. "I hit two bad shots in two days," Tiger assessed. "I just happened to catch Tim playing really well, and I didn't make enough birdies to match him."

While laying his personal touch on the definition of greatness, Woods never has been a big fan of elaborating on his ball-striking issues. He actually drove the ball quite well in Arizona, and for a guy who played his last competitive round last June, any appraisal of his comeback likely is victimized by the outrageously high standards that accompany him. He is, after all, Tiger Woods.

Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today