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OK, match-play geeks. Here’s what you live and die for – 29 scheduled hours of live cable and network TV coverage of the world’s best players going head-to-head.
The venue is a very dramatic, rugged layout in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountain Range just north of Tucson, Ariz. The Jack Nicklaus-designed Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, opened in 2009, is actually a 27-hole private club and resort course that’s part of a real-estate community. The Accenture Match Play is contested over the par-72 Saguaro and Tortolita nines, measuring 7,801 yards and playing to a 76.7 rating and 147 slope.
As for the course length, remember that the layout sits at an average of 2,600 feet above sea level. When you allow for the standard adjustment of two percent per 1,000 ft. of elevation, you get a 5.2 percent bonus, or an effective playing length of 7,441 yards. So don’t flinch when you see players hitting driver/7-iron to the 536-yard par-4 fifth hole. It’s really “only” 508 yards and plays downhill anyway.
Actually, it’s an ideal match-play course. The fairways are seductively wide; the greens fraught with undulations. In his more recent penchant of defending par at the green, Nicklaus has taken to designing “quadrants” of putting surfaces and leaving golfers to figure out how – or if – the various levels and tiers mesh. Position into and on the greens is paramount, which rewards smart play, not just power golf.
That’s evident in the list of winners here, running the gamut in style from Tiger Woods (2008) and Hunter Mahan (2012) to Geoff Ogilvy (2009), Ian Poulter (2010) and Luke Donald (2011).
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Hole No. 1, Par 4, 460 yards
No need for a driver here; the fairway runs out on left into a bunker at 328 and ends at 340 before a crossing barranca. The hole sets up perfectly for two big draws to a green that, like everything else here, is sectioned in ways that could leave you with a triple breaker from 25 feet if you get on the wrong side of a swale. Back left flag over bunker is especially dangerous, since green falls off dramatically on that side into desert.
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Hole No. 2, Par 5, 574 yards
Driver here! The point here is to carry it 297-plus yards over an intrusive fairway bunker on the left; or to rope one around the dogleg of the fairway and thread bunkers lining both sides. Rom there, the hole flips the other way and calls for a booming second shot to a well-protected landing zone that will accommodate. Expect a birdie/eagle feast here.
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Hole No. 3, Par 3, 208 yards
The scariest and least characteristic shot of the round, thanks to the one body of water found on the course. The tee shot, from a slightly elevated platform, comes into a wind that prevails from 10 o’clock along the access of the shot and nudges it towards the water on the right. The approach is made all the more difficult because the green is narrowest in the middle, thanks to sand that pinches the left side. Recovery from here is especially tough, given how the green falls away to water on the far side.
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Hole No. 4, Par 4, 393 yards
A tough, even awkward hole, thanks to a green that has a semi-false-front right and rises over a cross ridge to form a very inaccessible back right hole location. The farther back right the pin, the more it helps to drive it way right on a fairway that’s about nine yards wide. Actually, it’s two fairways, segmented by a deep middle hazard 286 yards off the tee and 307 yards to carry (uphill). The tendency on the uphill approach is to hit it long, which in the case of a very steep back bunker leaves a very tough downhill recovery. Even with wedge in hand to the green, this is not a simple hole.
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Hole No. 5, Par 4, 536 yards
Plenty of room here off the tee, and with the wind prevailing from behind it’s not very hard. Biggest issue is the steep fall off along both sides of the raised, platform green.
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Hole No. 6, Par 3, 185 yards
Simple, elegant, and when the pin is back right over a very steep flanking bunker, also a nervy shot. The scale is made all the more hard to judge because the background mountain makes everything seem vast and formless and gives you nothing secure to aim at. The hard thing about all diagonal greens like that is that a perfect yardage to the middle of the green ends up short if pushed or long if tugged. Here the tendency is to yank it a bit left and end up with a delicate pitch from a hollow to an elevated putting surface.
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Hole No. 7, Par 4, 486 yards
A simple choice here on a classic dogleg right that climbs uphill on the second shot. Challenge a massive bunker on the inside right off the tee (302 yards to carry) and the second shot opens up a lot. One of he real virtues of those course is that with many of the fairway bunkers like this one, it’s so deep that there’s just about zero chance of reaching the green from the bunker floor. Bail out left off and the second shot is a whole lot longer and brings into play a very deep pot bunker at the front of the green, and stands a good chance of coming in on such a low trajectory that it will run over the back.
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Hole No. 8, Par 5, 576 yards
A sharp dogleg right that climbs steadily. There’s more room off the tee over a bunker on the right (284-yard carry) than seems to be the case. A lot of second shot here will wind up in a little low chipping area short right of the green and call for a some imaginative third-shot options.
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Hole No. 9, Par 4, 476 yards
Left-to-right off the tee; uphill and right-to-left on the second shot. Despite its length a lot of players will hit less than driver to keep the tee shot on this side of a lethal barranca where the fairway runs out 313 yards from the tee. From the fairway, the green looks likes it’s perched way up in the sky over a front bunker that’s actually 20 yards short.
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Hole No. 10, Par 4, 493 yards
There’s a gracious outflow to this hole as it tumbles down from the tee — as if the big guy upstairs had unfurled a huge carpet across the desert. No need for a driver; the smart play is to land a 3-metal short of the bunkers on the right (300 yards to reach and have it tumble way down to the left). From there’s a middle/short iron for these guys to the only bunkered green on the course. The green, sitting at grade just beyond a barranca, has two distinct lobes segmented by a diagonal low swale that makes long putts across it a considerable adventure.
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Hole No. 11, Par 5, 659 yards
The only real decision here comes at the second shot in dealing with a well-bunkered diagonal ridge that intrudes prominently in play from right to left, 150 to 160 yards out from the center of the green. It forces a decision about whether to take the more advantageous high road (right) or the low road (left), leaving a harder angle in across the axis of the green.
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Hole No. 12, Par 3, 219 yards
Slightly downhill, into a crosswind prevailing from the left, to the shallowest green on the course.
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Hole No. 13, Par 5, 583 yards
Wide open, with bunkers flanking a receptive landing zone, leaving an uphill second shot that calls for a high fade. Here, as with the eighth hole, there will be many third shots hit from short right of the green up a steep, shaved slope.
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Hole No. 14, Par 4, 449 yards
Dramatically uphill, with a fairway that widens out on the right, beyond a bunker complex that’s 280 yards to fly. The left side here leaves a very tough angle in to a steep green perched above a pair of very deep bunkers short- and mid-left. The tendency here is to hit it long and then to hope and pray on the downhill recovery from behind.
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Hole No. 15, Par 4, 343 yards
The perfect reachable par-4, with the long green sitting in a box canyon that just invites bold approaches off the tee. If you read the approach line correctly (as if you were putting from the tee) you can navigate the convex area in front and make a bold play worthwhile. Miss it off the tee and wind up on the desert floor and you’ll be let with one of those ‘anything can happen” recoveries that take their toll on the faces of irons.
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Hole No. 16, Par 3, 199 yards
This is a lovely downhill hole, one that’s based on the maddening principle that if you have missed it a little you have missed it a lot. The green wraps around a big bunker on the left side and forms three distinct tiers. Committing to the correct plateau and holding it is demanding, as everything seems to drift right – aided by the prevailing wind and the slope of the terrain. It’s easy to land a shot close here, only to have it roll away to the right, leaving a tricky recovery stroke.
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Hole No. 17, Par 4, 482 yards
On a courser evenly divided between draws and fades off the tee, this hole is decidedly left-to-right, around a 75-yard long master bunker. The terrain to the left of it feeds the ball perfectly along a safe line, leaving a second shot to a low-slung, fall-away green sitting just beyond one of those nasty barrancas. The safe, smart shot in is short left.
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Hole No. 18, Par 4, 480 yards
If you’ve come to the 18th you know you need to win the hole, or at least not lose it, and the only rule that counts here is not (repeat: “NOT”) to drive it into the steep pot bunker exactly in the middle of the fairway, 311 yards off the tee. With 20 yards of fairway on the right side of it and 30 yards on the other, you certainly have your options. From there, it’s like climbing a mountain to get to the one of the most slope-filled, well-bunkered greens on the whole layout. Four here is a good score; and if you need it to extend the match, a birdie is a world-class achievement.