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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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.