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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stableford Returns

It's quite possible that Stableford is a new concept to many of you who read this blog. Since this year the Reno-Tahoe Open is switching to this format, I thought a quick lesson was in order.

The Montreux course

Most of you are clear about stroke or "medal" play, where individual strokes are counted, and match play, where scores are determined by the number of individual holes won. Match play isn't used as much in pro tournaments because matches are played between pairs -- either two individual players or two teams -- so it usually takes the form of elimination tournaments. Stroke play allows many players to compete against each other simultaneously and is therefore more practical for mass tournaments. Match play (for the pros, anyway) is thus viewed more as a "break from the status quo" and isn't done very often.

Stableford combines elements of both match and stroke play. It allows a large number of players to compete at once while providing a bit of novelty and unpredictability.

In Stableford, points are awarded instead of stroke totals. Different tournaments may use different methods of awarding those points, but here is a list of the totals that will be used in the Reno-Tahoe Open:
  • Albatross (double eagle): 8 points
  • Eagle: 5 points
  • Birdie: 2 points
  • Par: 0 points
  • Bogey: -1 points
  • Double bogey or worse: -3 points
I can hear your obvious question: So what's the big deal? After all, you get "plus" points for holes played under par and "minus" points for holes played over par.

In a word, it changes your strategy. First of all, you can't get worse than -3 on a single hole. (If the organizers allow players to just pick up if they make worse than bogey, the game can be sped up quite a bit!) But look a little deeper...

The cut comes after two rounds. In a typical stroke play tournament, even par generally makes the cut. But in this Stableford scoring system, how many points is "stroke play par" worth?. Let's look at a few players sitting on par after 36 holes:
  • Your first opinion might be that stroke play par is 0 points. And you'd be right -- at least, if you shoot 36 stroke play pars. We'll call this guy Player 1, and he has 0 points.
  • But suppose Player 2 shot stroke play par with a single bogey and a single birdie? Birdie is worth 2 points and bogey is worth -1 points, for a net total of 1 point. If he shoots par on the other 34 holes, Player 2 is also at stroke play par... but he has 1 point, not 0! Interesting, eh?
  • Suppose Player 3 also shoots stroke play par for 36 holes, but he made 7 birdies and 7 bogeys. He has 7 points! Players 1 and 2 aren't even close!
  • And Player 4 gets really interesting. Suppose he makes an albatross (8 points) and 8 bogeys? He has the same 0 point total as Player 1... but his stroke play score is 5 over par!
Clearly Stableford scoring rewards aggressive play. Because of that, it can create some dramatic finishes on the right course. Steve Lowery became something of a legend during the final round of the 1994 Sprint International when he holed out for eagle on the par-4 15th and then double-eagled the par-5 17th -- scoring 13 points in a mere three holes -- to pull within one point of the lead. He then bogeyed the 18th and ended up losing by one point!

The Reno-Tahoe Open is played on just such a course. The Montreux Golf & Country Club was designed by Jack Nicklaus, plays 7472 yards (6832 meters) long, averages 5600 feet (1710 meters) above sea level, and has a stretch of par 4-3-5-4 finishing holes lined with bunkers and water. You could see some serious score changes coming down the final four holes!

And with Padraig Harrington playing there this week, and a pairing featuring both John Daly and J.B. Holmes, fireworks are almost inevitable.

So don't write off this alternate-field event as just another minor tournament. This prime-time broadcast could end up being the most exciting tournament of the week. You can get all kinds of info about the event at the tournament page.

And in case you're curious, the photo came from the PGA Tour tournament page, I confirmed the scoring points in this Foxnews.com article and the course stats in this Wikipedia listing.

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