Should the Tour Championship be match play?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 14, 2012, 2:35 pm

Next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta will conclude the FedEx Cup playoffs. With the points reset, the top five players in the standing control their own destiny and all 30 players, theoretically, have a chance to win the cup. It's setting up for an exciting finish, but would a match-play finale be more thrilling? Our writers weigh in.

By JASON SOBEL

Contesting big-time professional tournaments in match play format is like having a third slice of pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner: It always sounds like a good idea beforehand, but never turns out the way you planned.

Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike the format itself. Match play is the purest form of competition in our game. I have zero problem with it one time a year at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. And I love it at the U.S. Amateur.

It simply wouldn't work for the Tour Championship, though.

Let's not be naïve. The FedEx Cup is big business. It is dependent on things like ratings and ticket sales and overall general fan interest. As the current points system is configured, it's highly unlikely to find a season finale that doesn't have at least a few of the major movers and shakers in the mix on Sunday afternoon.

Case in point: Entering next week's Tour Championship, needle-movers Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can each win the title with a tournament victory.

Match play provides too great of a variable. There's just as good a chance we'd get some combination of those superstars as John Huh, John Senden and Scott Piercy. No offense to those guys, but making such a change doesn't seem like a very sound business decision.

The problem with the FedEx Cup – if there is one – is that it tries to both reward the season's best player while also serving as an entertaining race to the finish. Match play wouldn't solve either of these problems.

Just like in Tucson every February, the first round would be must-see TV and each subsequent day would be met with growing apathy. Sure, there'd be a big payoff if Rory and Tiger met in the final match, but that's too much of a gamble – and it doesn't improve the current format.


By RYAN LAVNER

If done properly, a resounding yes.

The TOUR Championship still needs to have some stroke-play component to it, some way to whittle down the 30-man field to keep it from morphing into a bracket-busting free-for-all.

I’d recommend two rounds of stroke-play qualifying – on Thursday and Friday – that determines the top eight. Then, on Saturday, they would play the quarterfinals (and semifinals, perhaps). And on Sunday, they would play the semifinals and finals for the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and everything that goes along with it, including the $10 million bonus.

Could we wind up getting John Huh vs. Scott Piercy in the match-play final? If they play well enough, sure. But they’d need to beat 22 others in stroke-play qualifying, and then win three matches against some of the best players in the world. It’s virtually fluke-proof.

There’s a particular charm about match play, too, an inherent sense of desperation not found in other events. What’s exciting about Rory McIlroy finishing sixth at East Lake, for instance, and then taking home the cash? The winner of the last event of the FedEx Cup season needs to be the overall winner – period. That’s how playoff systems work. It’s the last man (or team) standing.

At the very least, this new format would save Golf Channel’s Steve Sands from standing in front of a dry-erase board, manically writing and rewriting various formulas and explaining it to a confused TV audience.

The simple fix: Battle for three playoff events to reach the top 30, and then the Tour Championship becomes a dynamic match-play event that determines the tournament winner, the FedEx Cup winner, and, you know, the guy who never has to worry about money again.


By REX HOGGARD

When it comes to next week’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup finale it’s not the format that needs fixing it’s the math and no amount of perceived match play magic is going to change that reality.

Each year on the eve of East Lake, pundits opine that if the FedEx Cup finish instituted some form of match play that the event would resonate more easily with the fans, yet this premise ignores the fact that the PGA Tour schedule features just a single match play event for a reason.

Match play doesn’t work with the modern game because golf at the highest level is driven by its stars and the odds of, say, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy advancing through whatever match play format the circuit concocts to face off for the $10 million payday are slim (see Accenture Match Play, WGC).

By comparison the current system – which is not without its flaws, most notably a pre-Tour Championship points reset that has virtually mitigated McIlroy’s dominance this post-season – has delivered a marquee money match in the past (2009) and the stage is set this year for a similar bout between Nos. 1 McIlroy and 2 Woods.

Besides, for all the handwringing 72 holes of stroke play is the accepted format for crowning a true champion by most tour types. It’s why the Olympics adopted the format for the 2016 Games and why it works at East Lake.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda fired eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record at the tournament.


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Korda, who is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda, leads fellow American Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.