Joy of Golf: Fresh format will give match play a new lease of life

Joy Chakravarty 12:36 30/04/2015
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Star power: Thanks to the new format, players like world No1 Rory McIlroy will be there for at least three days at the Match Play.

Not only has the World Golf Championship Match Play a new sponsor this week, it also has a new venue and, most importantly, a new format.

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This year, the Cadillac-sponsored tournament is being held at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, and it will move to Texas next year when computer manufacturers Dell take over the title sponsorship.

And while the PGA Tour needs to be thanked for saving what definitely is one of the most unique tournaments in the international schedule, it is also taking a lot of heat for tinkering with the format.

Match play, as we all know it, is one of the oldest forms in which the game was played.

There was no concept of par for a hole till the mid 1700s, and that was because a golf match was determined solely by who took less shots to complete a given set of holes.

Strokeplay, which is how a majority of professional events are conducted now, came almost centuries later. 

Most club matches are still played as match plays and given that it is almost a form of battle – of skills, wits and skullduggery – it remains one of the most engaging formats.

Reputations mean nothing and we have seen time and again how some of the biggest names in the game have been rubbished by rank 
outsiders.

It has happened time and again in match play that the top seeds have been knocked out early in the tournament.

And it is this uncertainty that gives the jitters to sponsors and broadcasters – the two stakeholders who have the most say in modern sport.

Instead of it being a mano-a-mano fight, the players will get more chances of advancing to the knockout stage.

Unlike the last few years, when the tournament had four brackets, there are 16 groups this year, each led by one of the top-16 ranked players in the world.

Then, through random draw, each group is filled by one player ranked between 17 and 32, one between 33 and 48 and one ranked between 49 to 64.

Each four-man group play round-robin matches on the first three days and the player with the best record in each group advances.

After the three days of group play are completed, the Round of 16 will be played Saturday morning, followed by the quarter-finals in the afternoon.

The semi-finals will be on Sunday morning and the final in the afternoon.

It ensures that top stars would be around for at least three days, if not more. It also means that one bad day on the golf course can still be rectified in the remaining two round-robin matches.

It may not conform to the true spirit of the match play, but I think it is so much better for players and fans, apart from ensuring that the interest of the sponsors and broadcasters are protected.

Let down by Lefty

Lat exit: Phil Mickelson.

For yet another year, Phil Mickelson has withdrawn from the WGC-Cadillac Match Play. And while he did not explain it, he has done so for “personal reasons”.

The reasons better be good because it is for players like Mickelson – one of the top stars with an extremely poor matchplay record – that the organisers have changed the entire format of the tournament.

Lefty hasn’t played the tournament since 2011, and has blamed it on the Dove Mountain course, where it used to be held for several years before the move to TPC Harding Park this year, as well as the fickleness of the format.

With so much done to please players like him, it would have been nice for Mickelson to show up.

Brooke’s one to watch

Brooke Henderson.

The quality of players coming through on the LPGA Tour, and how quickly the demographics of superstars is changing, is just remarkable.

As if players like Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson weren’t enough, we now have the 17-year-old Canadian Brooke Henderson to admire as well.

She was leading the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic after the second and third day, and even though she could not hold on to the lead on the final day, she finished third behind Ko and Morgan Pressel.

Henderson has no status on the Tour, her application to consider membership rejected because she is not yet 18.

But her golf is something else. She qualified for the last two US Women’s Open, making cut both times and finishing 10th last year.

Looks like she can give Ko a run for her money soon.

Stat of the Day
19 – Different countries where Lee Westwood has had victories, including three in three appearances at the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters in Jakarta.

Quote of the Week

“Obviously, it’s a crying shame for me not to have come home with the trophy but there are, I don’t know, how many billions of people who are rather pleased I made six at the last.” – David Howell looks at the brighter side of finishing second to China’s Wu Ashun in the Volvo China Open.

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