MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Geoff Ogilvy has not played a competitive round of golf in nearly a month. His heart is still at home, where his wife gave birth to their third child less than a week ago.
At any other tournament, it might not be the ideal preparation to defend a title.
The Match Play Championship is different.
Ogilvy came to this event in 2006 at La Costa feeling good about his game. Ten times that week, he watched an opponent stand over a putt to eliminate him. By the end of the week, he was holding the trophy.
A year ago at Dove Mountain, he wasn’t sure he could get his first tee shot in the fairway. He struggled through the first two rounds, got better as the week went on, and in the championship match felt it was the best he had ever played.
“If this week doesn’t go well, it won’t be because of how I’m playing today,” Ogilvy said Tuesday on the eve of the first World Golf Championship of the year. “It will be because someone plays better than me.”
That’s how it is in golf’s most fickle format.
Stories abound of players who make seven birdies and lose, and players who don’t make any and win. It all starts Wednesday on the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, when half of the 64-man field will be eliminated.
Ogilvy is among three champions who were not among the top 50 seeds. He was No. 52 when he won in 2006, while Steve Stricker was No. 55 in 2001 and Kevin Sutherland was No. 62 a year later.
Stricker’s fortunes have changed mightily, and he comes into this Match Play Championship as the No. 1 seed, but only because Tiger Woods has not returned from his indefinite leave. Phil Mickelson also is taking the week off for a family holiday that previously was postponed because of his wife’s treatment for breast cancer.
Stricker remembers what it was like to go to Australia in 2001 as one of the higher seeds. He asked a couple of caddies if they were interested in working for him, and they all turned him down. Stricker wound up taking a friend from Wisconsin, Tom Mitchell, then mowed down six guys to win the title.
Even as the No. 1 seed, his expectations aren’t much different.
“I don’t think you can look past anyone in this tournament,” Stricker said.
For him, that starts with Ross McGowan of England, in the first round. Lee Westwood is the No. 2 seed and plays Chris Wood in an All-England match, while third-seeded Jim Furyk plays former Ryder Cup teammate Scott Verplank and fourth-seeded Martin Kaymer faces Chad Campbell.
Ogilvy, who won the season-opening PGA Tour event at Kapalua, is the No. 10 seed and opens with Alexander Noren of Sweden.
Even though Woods has won this tournament three times, no one has a higher winning percentage than Ogilvy. Along with his two victories, he lost in the championship match three years ago and was beaten in the first round in 2008.
His overall record is 17-2, which in his way of thinking, makes him a better photographer than a painter.
“It’s a weird tournament,” he said. “I obviously enjoy coming to this tournament because it’s been good to me three out of the last four years. But there’s an element that’s slightly out of your control. Seventy-two holes is a big picture to paint. You can have a bad first nine holes and still win the tournament.”
He mentioned Woods shooting 40 on the front nine of the 1997 Masters and winning by 12 shots.
“This, if you have a bad first nine holes, suddenly you’re out. Bye. See you,” Ogilvy said. “It’s a tournament that you almost can’t have result expectations. You can feel good about your game. But I don’t think you’re in complete control at the end of the week.”
If he loses early, it would not be all bad.
Ogilvy lives about two hours north of Phoenix, where wife Julie is home with their three children, including the latest arrival. A son, Harvey Jack, was born on Feb. 11.
“Everyone is happy and healthy, everyone is perfect,” he said. “I feel like I’ve continued my offseason, and this is almost the start of it. It’s been really a nice three weeks. I spent it at home with my kids. They got to meet their new brother and stuff. I’m coming here pretty refreshed, so I’m ready to go.”
He can only hope he’s not leaving sooner than he wants.
Ogilvy is among the few players who have bothered to study the brackets, or at least confessed to looking at them. He tried to figure out which quadrant had the strongest road to the semifinals, only to realize none was particularly easy.
“Every match is difficult,” said Paul Casey, who lost to Ogilvy in the championship match last year. “Everybody here is capable of winning this tournament. I think you’ll hear that from a lot of guys. You just need a little bit of luck, and you need to play some good golf.”