MARANA, Ariz. Maybe, just maybe, there's one part of the game in which Tiger Woods isn't far and away the best: match play. I wouldn't press that point too far, given Tiger Woods's amazing history, but you can make a valid argument that Geoff Ogilvy may be the pro game's current best match-play warrior.
Ogilvy made the case for that title with a sensational weekend of golf. He defeated Paul Casey in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final on Sunday, 4 and 3, and it wasn't really that close. Ogilvy was 11 under par through the first 27 holes and had a 6-up lead. No offense to Casey, but the last nine holes were a formality.
"When Geoff plays the way he did today, you have to put him in the category with the top players," said Casey, who is friends with Ogilvy, a fellow Scottsdale native. "He's a phenomenal golfer. How many other guys have won three WGC events? Only one. Geoff was exceptional today. I just came up against a guy who was too good."
The only stat you really need to know: Ogilvy played his last 57 holes without a bogey, revealing a secret of match play that Tim Clark showcased with his second-round win over Woods. If you don't give anything away, if you don't make bogeys, you're very difficult to beat. Casey, from England, missed some putts in the morning 18 of Sunday's 36-hole final, but so did Ogilvy. Through 33 holes, Casey was eight under par for the day, and he still got drummed by Ogilvy, who earlier dispatched Rory McIlroy, Stewart Cink and Camilo Villegas impressively.
Ogilvy is 17-2 in this event and has been in the final three of the last four years, winning it twice. He's the only player besides Woods to win three World Golf Championship events. The WGC scoreboard looks like this: Woods 15, Ogilvy 3. Still, when Ogilvy plays near his best golf, he looks as good as any player in the world, in any format, and this victory (the sixth of his career) jumps him to fourth in the world golf rankings. He already won the Mercedes Championship this year, though that tiny starting field makes it asterisk-worthy. He's still only 31, and he has the skill, experience (he won the 2006 U.S. Open) and killer mentality that could make him a rival for Tiger. Especially in match play.
"Tiger has been the best match play player in the world for the last 15 years," Ogilvy said, dismissing his nomination. "He won three Junior Ams, three U.S. Ams and three of these. I'm obviously one of the better match players. When Tiger gets deep into this tournament, he seems quite hard to beat. If you've got to beat him, beat him early. If he makes it through a few rounds, he tends to go all the way. Which is like him in stroke play the closer he gets to the end, the more likely he is to win it.
"Tiger was in my quarter of the draw this week. Tim Clark helped us all out. I do look forward to a match against him. Hopefully, we can do it one day."
The tone of Sunday's 36-hole finale was set after one hole in the early morning light they teed off at 7:20 local time, the sun barely up over the mountains. Both players hit good drives and good approach shots. Ogilvy sank his six-footer for birdie. Casey missed his. Ogilvy was 1 up, marking the first time in 81 holes this week that Casey had been behind in a match. He'd led 78 of 80 holes.
"I can't believe he missed that," Mark Russell, the PGA Tour official who served as the match's referee, told me as we walked with a posse of media to the second tee. "I was already rehearsing saying, 'Hole halved with 3s.'"
At the par-3 sixth hole, Ogilvy got down in two putts from 50 feet. Casey, putting from a tier above the pin, ran his try four feet past and missed. Ogilvy was 2 up.
The par-5 eighth was pivotal, or so it seemed at the time. Ogilvy reached the back of the green in two while Casey missed left, facing a difficult pitch from the bottom of an eight-foot swale. Casey was still away after his next shot, then missed his birdie try and was conceded par. Ogilvy two-putted for birdie to go 3 up.
Casey made an eight-footer to save par at the ninth, but Ogilvy bested him with a six-footer for birdie and a 4-up edge. On the first nine holes, Ogilvy had eight putts to win holes, and Casey only had one. If Ogilvy's putter was hot, he could've had a six- or seven-hole lead.
Casey couldn't get the momentum back even when he holed out a 6-iron shot from the 10th fairway. I was standing in the left rough next to another writer when Casey launched the 6-iron. "That could be good," I said, because it was clearly on line with the pin. We watched the ball land, roll and disappear into the cup for an eagle. "Yeah, that's good." Casey didn't have much of a reaction. For one thing, he was 4 down. For another, Ogilvy still had a chance to tie, and his approach shot actually came fairly close. The lead was back to 3 up.
You can't pick one hole out of 36 where it all changed, but the par-5 11th hole was a crucial moment in the morning round. Casey teed off first and hit into a fairway bunker, near the lip. That seemed to take birdie out of the picture for him. Ogilvy hit the fairway, still pretty far back, then pulled out his 3-wood and tried to crush it. Instead, he pulled it way left, into the desert and underneath a jumping cholla cactus. A big mistake when your opponent is in trouble. Casey pitched out of the bunker and hit an iron that came up short of the green.
Ogilvy took a drop on the other side of a desert wash and hit his fourth shot short of the green. Casey pitched onto the green, 12 feet away. Then Ogilvy played a perfect bump-and-run chip that hit the stick and dropped in for an unlikely par. Casey missed his putt, giving the hole back to Ogilvy and reinstating his 4-up lead. (Given how poorly they played the hole, it's interesting to note that they skipped the 11th when they played a practice round on the course earlier this month.)
They traded birdies at 13 and 16, and Casey gave himself a glimmer of hope with a nice birdie putt at the 18th to cut Ogilvy's lead to 3-up. Ogilvy posted a medal score of six-under 66 with no bogeys. If a 66 can be routine, this one surely was.
Ogilvy birdied the opening hole in the afternoon so much for Casey's momentum. Casey countered with a birdie at the second. Then came the second most important hole of the day.
At the par-4 fourth, Casey holed a bomb, a putt of some 60 feet that curled in the back side of the cup. You know what happened next, of course. Ogilvy matched him with a 10-foot birdie of his own to halve the hole.
"I made that putt on 4, Geoff just short of laughed at me and carried on," Casey said. "What's tough about playing Geoff is that he doesn't change, his demeanor doesn't waver. That's a huge attribute in match play."
Let's face it, Ogilvy was a golfing machine this week, especially Sunday. He was 11 under par through 33 holes without a bogey. That total would be tough for anyone to beat.
Casey rallied on the final nine, briefly keeping alive a match that looked headed for an early 8-and-7 finish after he bogeyed the ninth to fall 6 down. It was a short-lived rally, however, and the match ended when they halved the 15th hole with birdies. Ogilvy won, 4 and 3.
Note this: The last time Ogilvy won this title, he won the U.S. Open later that year. Reminded of that fact, Ogilvy chuckled. "It's nice that the Open is back in New York this year, which would be symmetrical," he said, referring to his U.S. Open victory at Winged Foot. "But I'm not superstitious. Life doesn't work that way."
Sometimes it does. He and Casey visited this course for a practice round two weeks before the tournament, on Friday the 13th, and they ended up squaring off in the final. Check the lunar tables to see if there was a full moon then, too.
One thing we can state unequivocally. This week, no one was a match for Ogilvy.