Match play format a riddle wrapped in an enigma

By Jason SobelFebruary 25, 2013, 1:28 pm

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods – the top two seeds at this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship – lost within minutes of each other in the opening round. And within minutes of that, social media was abuzz with attacks on the format and suggestions for change going forward.

This tournament is broken and needs to be fixed! No Tiger and no Rory means no interest! There should be fewer players! Double elimination! Something must be done!

Whoa. Slow down, people. I can only bust one myth at a time.

It’s easy to enough to explain away unpredictability in any match play format by intoning one of Woods’ favorite phrases: “It is what it is.” There is a strange paradox in that the very thing which makes it the favorite non-major tournament of so many fans – extreme volatility – also leaves those same people debating how it could be extracted from the event.

First things first: The tourney itself isn’t broken – and if it was, the sole reason that the game’s two top-ranked players didn’t reach the weekend shouldn’t be cause for such contempt. McIlroy and Woods weren’t in the mix together at any of last year’s four major championships, so by this logic would they be broken, too? I sure hope not.

(However, I will easily acquiesce that any event delayed by snow in two of the past three years isn’t without some need for fixing. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to contend that any World Golf Championship event – heavy on the “World” – contested annually in the desert north of Tucson, Ariz., is doing a severe disservice to the original intent of the series.)

This is a tournament that in a decade-and-a-half has never seen its two highest seeds reach the final. Perhaps the closest it came was two years ago, when Luke Donald bested Martin Kaymer after the latter had already locked up newfound status as No. 1 in the world. And guess what? It was hardly a ratings bonanza, which should erase any suspicion that having two of the world’s best will instantly translate into more eyeballs globally.

This week’s final featured a pair of big names – if not the biggest names – in winner Matt Kuchar and runner-up Hunter Mahan. Those still reciting past success for the likes of Kevin Sutherland and Pierre Fulke clearly haven’t been paying attention for the past 11 editions. On those occasions, the following players have teed it up at the Match Play on Sunday afternoon: Woods and Geoff Ogilvy (three times each); Mahan, David Toms, Davis Love III and Paul Casey (twice each); and Kuchar, McIlroy, Donald, Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Stewart Cink, Henrik Stenson and Chris DiMarco.

I dare you: Find one dog in that pack. They may have various levels of Q ratings, but clearly those Sutherland-Fulke days are a thing of the past.

Even so, some are suggesting the only way this event will be considered 'successful' is if the game's two biggest names meet in the final. You know what that's called? The Duel at Jinsha Lake.

I'm referring to last October's one-day money-grab between Woods and McIlroy that – for the right price – was available to spectators online.

That’s dangerous territory. File it under the category of: Careful What You Wish For. So, you want to see Rory and Tiger square off against each other? Unless it happens organically, that idea can feel more than a little unfulfilling. After all, what's the motivation for either to play in any non-major tournament when they can travel the world on a permanent brocation, competing against each other for seven-figure paydays in front of fawning fans?

Essentially, it would purport a two-man league, golf’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals, though theoretically each of these parties could share the winners circle.

If that’s what you’d like the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship to become, stand still while I launch an Arizona snowball in your direction to help knock some sense into you. The beauty of the game is that at the beginning of each week, every competitor in the field has an equal opportunity of winning.

We were reminded of that once again this past week. An event which pessimistically started in the snow and glumly continued with the two top seeds getting ousted early concluded with a pair of big names battling on Sunday afternoon, an image which has become commonplace at this event.

It all recalls an old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This tournament showed once again that it ain’t broke.

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Watch: Daly makes an ace at the Chubb Classic

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

John Daly won't walk from the Chubb Classic with the trophy, but he certainly deserves recogition for his Sunday scorecard, which came complete with a hole-in-one.

Daly aced the 154-yard par-3 16th on the Talon Course at TwinEagles, when his ball carried the froont bunker and tracked right to the hole.

Two holes later, Daly signed for a final-round 67 that included four birdies, three bogeys and two eagles, which both in the span of four holes on the back nine.

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Gustafson shares stuttering success video

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 8:31 pm

Sophie Gustafson shared a breakthrough Sunday morning on YouTube.

Gustafson, a five-time LPGA winner and 16-time Ladies European Tour winner, shared her news in a 4-minute and 15-second video.

She did so without stuttering.

And that’s the nature of her breakthrough, something she is sharing in hopes that it will help others who stutter.

“I’m certainly not perfect, and the next time you see me, I am going to stutter, there is no question about that,” she says in the video. “But I am excited, because I am going in the right direction, and I believe I have found the solution that works for me.”

For someone who has struggled with stuttering all of her life, Gustafson has touched so many with her ability to communicate. She has entertained her legion of Twitter followers with her sense of humor. She also has written articles.

Back in 2011, Gustafson touched Golf Channel viewers when she opened up about her stuttering in an interview that was aired during the Solheim Cup. Her courage in sharing her challenges was recognized the following year, when the Golf Writers Association of American presented her its Ben Hogan Award, an honor bestowed to someone who has persevered through physical ailment. She also won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award that year.

Gustafson, 44, left the game as a player three years ago to become Beth Allen’s full-time caddie on the Ladies European Tour. She explains in the YouTube video that she is making her breakthrough with the help of Steve Gill, a team member with Tony Robbins’ life and business strategy group.

Gustafson said Gill led her to breathing, meditation and incantation exercises that have helped her since they began working together eight months ago.

“If you know anyone who stutters, tell them to breathe in and then speak,” Gustafson said. “I tried it the other way for 44 years, and it's just not working.” 

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J.Y. Ko wins her first start as an official LPGA member

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2018, 4:09 pm

Make way for Jin Young Ko.

The South Koreans keep delivering one new star after another to the LPGA ranks, and they aren’t going to disappoint this year.

Ko made some history Sunday winning the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, closing with a 3-under-par 69 to claim a wire-to-wire victory. She became the first player in 67 years to win her LPGA debut as a tour member. Beverly Hanson (1951) is the only other player to do so.

Hyejin Choi, an 18-year-old who just turned pro, is yet another emerging South Korean star looking to crack the LPGA ranks. She finished second Sunday, three shots back after closing with a 67. She played on a sponsor exemption. She is already No. 11 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings and likely to move up when the newest rankings are released. Had Choi won Sunday, she could have claimed LPGA membership for the rest of this season.

Full-field scores from the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open

Ko, 22, moved herself into early position to try to follow in Sung Hyun Park’s footsteps. Park won the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards last year. She joined Nancy Lopez as the only players to do so. Lopez did it in 1978. Park shared the Player of the Year honor with So Yeon Ryu.

Ko said winning the Louise Suggs Rookie of the Year Award is a goal, but she didn’t come into the year setting her sights on Player of the Year.

“I haven’t thought about that yet,” she said.

Ko finished at 14 under overall.

It was a good week for rookies. Australia’s Hannah Green (69) finished third.

Ko claimed LPGA membership this year based on her victory as a non-member at the KEB Hana Bank Championship in South Korea last fall. She’s already a star in South Korea, having won 10 times on the Korean LPGA Tour. She is No. 20 in the world and, like Choi, poised to move up when the newest world rankings are released.

Former world No. 1 Lydia Ko closed with an even par 72, finishing tied for 19th in her 2018 debut. She is in next week’s field at the Honda LPGA Thailand.

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Luiten takes title at inaugural Oman Open

By Associated PressFebruary 18, 2018, 3:25 pm

MUSCAT, Oman - Joost Luiten of the Netherlands won the inaugural Oman Open on Sunday to break a title drought of nearly 17 months.

The 32-year-old Dutchman shot a 4-under 68 to finish on 16-under 272, two shots ahead of his friend, England's Chris Wood (69).

It was Luiten's sixth European Tour title and the first since the 2016 KLM Open.

Frenchman Julien Guerrier (71) virtually assured that he would not have to go to qualifying school for the 12th time with a third-place finish after a 13-under 275.

Luiten started with three birdies in his first four holes, but bogeys on the seventh and eighth set him back. On the back nine, he made three birdies, including a key one on the 16th, where he made a 30-foot putt.

''It feels great. I didn't know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition - it's a great technical golf course as well - it was beyond my expectation and to hold the trophy is even better,'' said Luiten, who is expected to rise to No. 65 in the new rankings on Monday.

''I had a great start, that's what I was hoping for. I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be.

Full-field scores from the NBO Oman Golf Classic

''Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine, but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody.''

Playing one group ahead, England's Wood was right in the mix and tied with Luiten at 15-under when their fortunes went in opposite directions almost at the same time. On the 17th hole, Wood drove his tee shot into the hazard left and could do no more than chip his ball out for a bogey. Luiten, meanwhile, drained his 30-footer birdie putt on the 16th for a two-shot swing.

Recovering his form after a series of disappointments, Wood was let down by the loss and said: ''It's golf isn't it? You are never happy.

''I played poorly for six or eight months. Would have never thought I would have put myself into contention. And when you do, you feel gutted when you don't win. I am pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction.''

Luiten's win also got him into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai, securing him a start at the WGC-Mexico Championship in two weeks.

Frenchman Alexander Levy (70), who was hoping to finish in the top five to push into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and grab the WGC-Mexico spot himself, did manage a joint fourth place at 11 under, but Luiten's victory kept him 11th.

The European Tour next moves to Doha for the Qatar Masters starting on Thursday.