Tiger's other Match Play game features misdirection

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

CARLSBAD, Calif. - This week's Accenture Match Play Championship is not just unique because of the format or the exclusivity of the field. It's different because it brings the best golfers in the world together in a slumber party atmosphere.

OK, as close to a slumber party atmosphere as multi-millionaire golfers/corporate pitchmen with their own Lear Jets and traveling entourages ever get. Which means chilling in their own private, gigantic suites at one of America's legendary resorts.

But the point is they are all practically at the same resort, even notorious recluse Tiger Woods. La Costa Resort & Spa does not just bring the best golfers in the world together on its course, it brings them together on the resort grounds. Anyone who's spent any time around the scattered traveling caravan of the PGA Tour understands just how rare this is. Most of the time, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson don't just have their own private accommodations on the road, they virtually have their own separate zip codes.

Not at La Costa. This match play showdown offers the delicious possibility of No. 1 battlers Tiger and Vijay having an awkward chance encounter at the soda machine after hours.

"I think the PGA players really enjoy the event because they're staying on site,'' La Costa director of marketing Denise Chapman said. "They can walk from their rooms to the course. And that's something that's unusual for them.

"We've heard from players that they love coming here, in part because of that."

La Costa's unique setup also draws fans expecting close encounters of the PGA kind. After all, the Match Play Championship field is restricted to 64 golfers. It shouldn't be too hard to find those 64 golfers scattered around La Costa's property, right?


While you'll likely be able to locate 64th-seed Shingo Katayama or 61st-seed Stephen Leaney (assuming you can recognize them), the top players are more elusive. And if you're thinking of going Tiger tracking...well, best of luck.

Tiger knows La Costa's resort almost as well as he knows the greens of the event where he's two-time defending champ. He avoids autograph seekers here by utilizing a strategy the old crew from Get Smart would appreciate.

Woods uses secret passageways. That's right, secret passageways. While La Costa looks like a sprawling, spread-out, multiple-building resort to the average guest, Tiger knows the employees' secrets: that you can get almost anywhere on the resort by walking indoors through various passageways, many restricted, some underground.

"Tiger Woods knows this place better than some of the employees,'' Chapman said. "He really values his privacy, understandably, and you can see that in the lengths he goes to learn all the hidden ways around."

It almost seems like another game for Tiger, one he is equally determined to win. By using his hidden routes, Woods often pops out near his suite, a good quarter of a mile or more from where the confident Sharpie-and-memorabilia-toting fans set up shop, certain they have him in their sights.

"Tiger is something else,'' La Costa golf director Jeff Minton said, laughing. "It's funny, how he gets around these hordes of people waiting for him. He'll cut through the accounting office, where no one else goes, head up from there into HR and be in his room before anyone knows he's even left the course."

It is all part of the literal backroom drama of the Match Play Championship. This is the tournament where the stars are close to the common man (at least the well-off common man who can drop $300 a night on a luxury hotel room). But not quite as close as they may first appear.

Woods is the most prominent and extreme case of hidden hallway navigating La Costa, but plenty of the other top names are growing adept at the practice.

"Because La Costa had a major tournament here for years and years, the pros get used to the layout of the resort and really know their way around,'' Chapman said.

A recent run of wet weather is threatening this no-maps-needed staple. This is the third straight year that weather has delayed the Match Play at La Costa (the first round's been pushed back from Wednesday to Thursday this week) and with player grumbling at an all-time high, there is some talk that the Accenture Match Play will move to another site when it's contract with La Costa expires after the 2006 tournament.

"I'm kind of tired of playing this wet course every year," Vijay Singh told the Associated Press.

Grumpy Vijay shouldn't count on anything though. Not with La Costa's more than 40-year history with pro golf. The pictures of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in the hallway separating the pro shop from The Legends restaurant are not imported mementos. Those shots were actually taken here, in big tournament after big tournament.

Besides, do you think Tiger's really giving up his secret passageways? Especially now that he can share them with his publicity-shy bride?

"I think the players enjoy the familiarity with the resort," Chapman said.

Just ask the average fans and autograph hounds, scratching their heads alike, at another mysterious Tiger vanishing. Now you see him, now Jane in accounting looks up and sees him.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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