I love match play. It is in my mind the purest and most exciting form of golf, and yet is relatively unfamiliar to most American golfers. Indeed, American golfers generally only observe it during the WGC event, the Ryder Cup or the President’s Cup. And in terms of actually participating in match play, most will only see a bastardized version in outings. Terms like like All Square, Halve, and Dormie, 1-UP, 5 and 4, might as well be from a foreign language.
Most golfers’ game is “stroke play.” In these rounds, all of the golfers play a certain number of holes, and the player who has the lowest combined total score is the winner.
In Match play, golfers—or teams of golfers—are pitted directly against each other. A player is not concerned with the entire field—only with beating the opposing golfer (or side, in team play).
In match play, each hole is scored individually, and as a discrete event. A player (or team) wins a match by winning the most holes over the course of a round. A hole is won by the player (or team) who completed the hole in the fewest strokes.
The scoring system leads to some unusual terminology. The results of match events are not reported by strokes, or by the total number of holes won, but by the differential. The scoring also notes the number of holes that have been played. For example, if after 10 holes, Tiger Woods has won six holes and Rory McIlroy has won four, the announcers would report that Woods is 2-Up through 10. At the same time, McIlroy is 2-down. If both players have won the same number of holes, the match is “All Square Through 10.”