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Winning at Match Play vs. Stroke Play


iacas
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Match Play vs. Stroke Play  

34 members have voted

  1. 1. The field is 128 players in both cases. Which tournament is tougher to win: a match play event or a 72-hole stroke play event?

    • Match Play
    • Stroke Play
    • They're both equally as difficult.
  2. 2. If the field is 64 (match play) versus 144 (stroke play), what's your answer?

    • Match play is tougher.
      0
    • Stroke play is tougher.
    • They're both equally as difficult.
      0


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I argued with someone on Twitter awhile back that the PGA championships that Hagen won at match play were "easier" to win than the PGA championship played at stroke play. He disagreed, and felt that match play makes it tougher to win.

In answering the poll, do not consider that 128 players would require 7 rounds of matches (128, 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2). The question isn't about being physically difficult. It's about which tournament is tougher to win from a competitive standpoint.

I'll save my reasons for later. Don't read anyone else's before you vote, and then share yours after you vote.

Erik J. Barzeski —  I knock a ball. It goes in a gopher hole. 🏌🏼‍♂️
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I can see arguments for both. I think in terms of the numbers of occurrences, stroke play is tougher in both scenarios, which is what I voted for. 

In match play, especially if it is a tournament were they rank players in a bracket, not having some random drawing, then its much easier for the better players to win. #1 faces #128, and would not face a top 10 till like the final two matches. If you think of this in terms of March Madness. If the #16 seeds knock off ever #1 seed in a tournament, it is an easier tournament for the rest of the field. Still, the #1 seed has the easiest route to winning because they are continually matched up against weaker teams through out the tournament. 

For stroke play, you could have like 5 people play out of their minds and make it extremely difficult to win. The #1 player in the world could lose a stroke play tournament because he is up against like 10 golfers who play above their average. While, in match play those players would be knocking them selves out of the tournament. It's like sitting back and watching the enemy kill them selves then just picking off the last person at the end. 

Yea, stroke play to me is probably WAY tougher to win than match play. 

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I voted stroke play is more difficult.  With match play, all you need to do is beat one person at a time not the entire field. But even more so, in match play you can use all the skills, including gamesmanship if you want, to affect the round. In stroke play, gamesmanship is basically moot. Match play opens additional opportunities for someone who is mentally tough.

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I see stroke play as harder.  In watching match play, there are a number of concedes per round, which  seems to make pace of play a little quicker.   It also takes pressure off to have to finish the hole, you blow up there is the option to concede the hole and move on.  Stroke play ain’t over till it’s over as each hole has to be played out.  

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So far I'm the only who voted that 128 person match play field would be just as difficult to win as a 128 person stroke play field. For the sake for this discussion, I am using the "average" PGA tour pro or "average" player relative to the field. For the average players, I think both are equally difficult (statistically speaking) but I also believe the answers change at the extremes. 

For the elite players, I think it's actually much tougher to win a match play event. For the lower end players, it is probably much easier.

Consider the fact that during a 4 round stroke play event, an elite PGA tour pro's scores will probably look something like this - 66/63/71/68. Solid stuff and likely to lead to a top 5 finish if not an outright win. But on that 3 round where the elite pro puts up a mediocre 71? He probably has a better than 50% chance of getting knocked out. 

Meanwhile the odds on going against just one person probably favors the lower end players quite a bit more. In words, a 100 ranked tour player who is probably - on average - 1 shot worse per round than a top 10 pro, has a much better chance of overcoming his 1 shot or less differential on any given day than he does on a cumulative basis over 4 days. 

To the second question - In a field of 64 vs. 144, it's hard to see any argument for larger field being easier, even when considering the variance on a day to day basis. 

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10 minutes ago, Big C said:

For the elite players, I think it's actually much tougher to win a match play event. For the lower end players, it is probably much easier.

No. 🙂

Your 71 idea also doesn’t consider that one hole might be a double.

And if you take 127 other players and line up their distributions (their bell curve performances) it still favors match play being easier.

Match play has “more luck” but you can also play poorly and run because your opponent has a bad day. Heck you could shoot 78 and win. While that would knock you out at stroke play. Ultimately the luck evens out.

Look at tennis. Top seeds often make it through.

Or bowling tournaments.

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I voted stroke play for both.  

I've had plenty of wins in match play on bogey.  I had one memorable round that I won in match play that was mostly bogeys, even though I was giving shots to an opponent.  

-- Michael | My swing! 

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1 hour ago, iacas said:

And if you take 127 other players and line up their distributions (their bell curve performances) it still favors match play being easier.

Interesting. Out of curiosity, I googled the past 20 winner of the PGA's Match Play tournament. My assumption was that most of the winners were mid-range to lower level guys. But it appears that most of the winners were "top 10" types. Perhaps match play does favor higher level players. 

With that said, the assertion that match player is easier as a blanket statement is pretty absurd on it's face. In any 128 player field, the odds of a given player winning are 1 - X. X being the likelihood that any of the other 127 players will win. The fact that match-play is easier for certain types of golfer makes it mathematically necessary that it is harder for other types of golfers.

 

 

Edited by Big C
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6 hours ago, Big C said:

With that said, the assertion that match player is easier as a blanket statement is pretty absurd on it's face. In any 128 player field, the odds of a given player winning are 1 - X. X being the likelihood that any of the other 127 players will win. The fact that match-play is easier for certain types of golfer makes it mathematically necessary that it is harder for other types of golfers.

Well duh. But also match play events almost never have 128 or 156 players.

The point is that for a better player, they’re easier to win. It’s head to head. You must beat only one person. And each time you do your odds increase exponentially. 🙂 

Erik J. Barzeski —  I knock a ball. It goes in a gopher hole. 🏌🏼‍♂️
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I didn’t read the initial guidance (thought it might be a spoiler!) and just looked at it from a mathy perspective. If I am playing others with very comparable skill levels and have a 50% chance of winning each match, 7 rounds of match play (0.5 ^ 7) is equivalent to 1/128 so I called it equal chances for same-sized field. So a smaller field for match play would tilt odds in that side’s favor.

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Stroke play is harder to win. You have to beat the entire field. Match play you only have to beat 6/7 guys. 
Stroke play over 72 holes also decreases the effects of luck or variance, I might have a great day and beat a better player on any given day but the chances of me doing it over 4 rounds are less likely. 

Stevie T

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I voted stroke play for both but had to think about it a little bit.   A stroke play winner generally has at least one round that is sub optimal, you can’t just shoot yourself out of it.  It’s definitely hard to put the lowest score together over 4 days.   The main issue with match play that is difficult is that you can run into a buzzsaw and someone has a fantastic round you can’t overcome.   That can happen in stroke play, but they need 3 more good days where every hole counts.   A pro could have 2 blow up holes in match play and still win, where as those blow up holes could mean missing the cut or shooting yourself out on Sunday for stoke play

—Adam

 

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I voted stroke play for both. In match play, you only have to beat one player at a time and for each hole, only best that player regardless of number of strokes. You both have the same conditions, wind, etc and you have the advantage of changing how your play based on what they do. If they hit it OB, you can play conservatively.

In stroke play, you are against the whole field. Some may have better conditions than you have at your time of play. The PGA this year was a good example where weather was a factor for roughly one half the field due to morning/afternoon differences. Also, you must try and score the lowest on each hole regardless of what your playing partners do. 

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Stroke play is harder to win in both scenarios, as several above have noted.  I love match play, because 1 or 2 bad holes won't ruin your chances to win the match, plus you only have to beat one player at a time and not the entire field over 4 days.

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Haven't three players won just about everything of importance in men's tennis in the last 20 years? Match play reduces luck factor as someone pointed out in a prior post. Stroke play is a simultaneous match play with everyone in the field... i.e. much harder to standout. 

 

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Vishal S.

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52 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

Haven't three players won just about everything of importance in men's tennis in the last 20 years? Match play reduces luck factor as someone pointed out in a prior post. Stroke play is a simultaneous match play with everyone in the field... i.e. much harder to standout. 

Match play increases the luck factor… because of the small sample size. It reduces the "luck of the draw" but that's about it.

And yes, I could have phrased it a bit better, the OP. Obviously in the same field size your chances of winning average out to the same… because it's 1/128 (on average).

The conversation comes about from someone telling me that winning five PGA Championships at match play was incredibly difficult (Walter Hagen). I disagreed; I think it was much easier to win a PGA Championship back then than it is now, at stroke play, and that's before you consider the strength/depth of field.

And that's before I realized Hagen won matches that started with only 32 people!

Let's say Hagen was pretty dominant. He's got a 60% chance to win against anyone, but he's 75% against someone over four rounds of stroke play.

.75^128 = 1.01822021309e-16
0.6^5 = 0.07776

The lack of scientific notation should clue you in here. Heck, let's say he's 95% chance to win over four rounds of stroke play against anyone:

0.95^128 = 0.00140806102354

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2 hours ago, iacas said:

Let's say Hagen was pretty dominant. He's got a 60% chance to win against anyone, but he's 75% against someone over four rounds of stroke play.

.75^128 = 1.01822021309e-16
0.6^5 = 0.07776

The lack of scientific notation should clue you in here. Heck, let's say he's 95% chance to win over four rounds of stroke play against anyone:

0.95^128 = 0.00140806102354

Yah, so statistically it ain't even close. Match play gives anyone a shot at an exponentially bigger piece of the pie. We agree on this. 

Another way I think match play reduces uncertainty is that no matter how many shots you lose a hole by, its just a unit loss of one hole. An in-form player will not lose the entire match because of a brain fart quadruple bogey. For eg. Rory never recovered from his quad on 12th hole last weekend. Me thinks the weekend would have turned out differently for him if it were binary (just win/loss of a hole).  

That increases the chance of result to follow the mathematical probability. More predictable. Just like the putting thread. Better putters like predictable roll. The intangibles favor match play too, IMHO.     

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Vishal S.

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1 hour ago, GolfLug said:

Another way I think match play reduces uncertainty is that no matter how many shots you lose a hole by, its just a unit loss of one hole. An in-form player will not lose the entire match because of a brain fart quadruple bogey. For eg. Rory never recovered from his quad on 12th hole last weekend. Me thinks the weekend would have turned out differently for him if it were binary (just win/loss of a hole).  

This makes me then wonder about formats like StableFord, where double-bogey is the maximum possible score on a hole.  There's more than binary loss of a hole (double bogey is worse than two single bogeys in StableFord), but the possibility of a quad is out of the picture.

I think I slightly wondered about it a few years ago, as compared to stroke play, with regards to shot selection and I think we determined that prioritizing GIR over proximity to the pin with a big chance of missing the green was still the right play.  I'm not sure if that's relevant to my follow up question then.

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