Match Play hole-by-hole: Dove Mountain

Rory McIlroy plays a shot during practice prior to the start of the WGC-Accenture Match Play at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain.

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No snow this time. That’s good. Unfortunately, no Tiger Woods this time. Which is bad for viewers. And they still haven’t sold any real estate. Which is really bad for the course devcelopers, even if it makes you feel like you’re playing (or watching) golf in a basically untamed desert.

The Golf Club at Dove Mountain is certainly fun to watch from home. And with match play, just about anything can happen, especially on this dramatic, rugged layout in the foothills of the Tortolita Mountain Range just north of Tucson, Ariz. The Jack Nicklaus-designed course, opened in 2009, features a 27-hole layout. The WGC-Accenture Match Play is contested over the Saguaro and Tortolita nines, par 72, 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 2 percent per 1,000 feet 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 and 7-iron to the 536-yard, par-4 fifth hole. It’s really “only” 508 yards and plays downhill anyway.

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, 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 long-hitting Tiger Woods (2008) and Hunter Mahan (2012) to shorter hitting, fine iron players like Geoff Ogilvy (2009), Ian Poulter (2010), Luke Donald (2011) and Matt Kuchar (2013). The most relevant stat all week might be – as usual – most putts made within 10 feet.

• • •

Hole No. 1: Par 4, 460 yards

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Mark Wilson plays the first hole at Dove Mountain during the 2012 WGC Match Play.

No need for a driver here; the fairway runs out on the left into a bunker at 328 yards 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. A back-left flag over the bunker is especially dangerous, since the green falls off dramatically on that side into the desert.

• • •

Hole No. 2: Par 5, 574 yards

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Rickie Fowler, left, and Bubba Watson play the second hole at Dove Mountain during the 2012 WGC Match Play.

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. From 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.

• • •

Hole No. 3: Par 3, 208 yards

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Ian Poulter plays the third hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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 toward 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.

• • •

Hole No. 4: Par 4, 393 yards

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Nicolas Colsaerts plays the fourth hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

A tough, even awkward hole, thanks to a green that has a semi-false front on its 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 9 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.

• • •

Hole No. 5: Par 4, 536 yards

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Charles Howell III plays the fifth hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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.

• • •

Hole No. 6: Par 3, 185 yards

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Miguel Angel Jimenez plays the sixth hole at Dove Mountain during the 2011 WGC Match Play.

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.

• • •

Hole No. 7: Par 4, 486 yards

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Jason Day (left, with caddie) approaches the green at the seventh hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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 the real virtues of this course is that many of the fairway bunkers, like this one, are so deep that there’s just about zero chance of reaching the green from the bunker floor. Bail out left off the tee and the second shot is a whole lot longer – and brings into play a very deep pot bunker at the front of the green, also with a good chance of coming in on such a low trajectory that it will run over the green.

• • •

Hole No. 8: Par 5, 576 yards

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Luke Donald plays the eighth hole at Dove Mountain during the 2012 WGC Match Play.

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 shots here will wind up in a little, low chipping area short right of the green and call for some imaginative third-shot options.

• • •

Hole No. 9: Par 4, 476 yards

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Robert Allenby plays the ninth hole at Dove Mountain during the 2010 WGC Match Play.

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 the short 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.

• • •

Hole No. 10: Par 4, 493 yards

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Paul Casey plays his tee shot on the 10th hole.

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, these guys hit middle/short iron 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.

• • •

Hole No. 11: Par 5, 659 yards

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Rory McIlroy plays the 11th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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, 150-160 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.

• • •

Hole No. 12: Par 3, 219 yards

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Hunter Mahan plays the 12th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

Slightly downhill, into a crosswind prevailing from the left, the tee shot is into the shallowest green on the course.

• • •

Hole No. 13: Par 5, 583 yards

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Steve Stricker plays the 13th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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.

• • •

Hole No. 14: Par 4, 449 yards

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Charles Howell III and Tiger Woods read putts at the 14th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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 into 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.

• • •

Hole No. 15: Par 4, 343 yards

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Steve Stricker plays the 15th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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 left with one of those ‘anything-can-happen” recoveries that take their toll on the faces of irons.

• • •

Hole No. 16: Par 3, 199 yards

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Hunter Mahan plays the 16th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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.

• • •

Hole No. 17: Par 4, 482 yards

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Hunter Mahan plays the 17th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

On a course 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.

• • •

Hole No. 18: Par 4, 480 yards

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Webb Simpson plays the 18th hole at Dove Mountain during the 2013 WGC Match Play.

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.

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