Since its ham-handed debut in 1999, when talk of a star-studded weekend was muted by a Faceless Final Four, Accenture has served as the Match Play’s only title sponsor, which is saying something. The two other WGCs have run through several commercial partners, undermining the notion that professional golf can support more than a half-dozen elite-field events. Television honchos may not like the Match Play’s exotic, cut-throat format or the possibility of a Jeff Maggert-Andrew Magee final, but different is what matters here, and this tournament definitely is unique.
Seven of the first eight Match Plays were held at La Costa, a nice resort north of San Diego that spends most of February underwater, which is great if you’re trying to grow rice paddies. If La Costa was the lift, clean and place capital of the world, the galleries were also improbably small, not just because of the sloppy grounds, but the PGA Tour event held up the road at Torrey Pines about a month earlier.
So the Match Play was moved to a mountain in the middle of the desert, where the ball is played down and the crowd sizes have gone up, at least a little bit. Those who might wonder why the Tour would ditch a major market (San Diego) for a significantly smaller one (Tucson) should consider a primary law of reality: there aren’t many places you can stage a golf tournament in the fourth week of February.
The Ryder Cup has shown us the value of having big crowds generating a hearty buzz at match-play events. The Accenture gathering has never produced anything close to that, so we live with what we’ve got – all of the world’s best players together for the first time this year, although half of the big names are likely to be gone by Thursday afternoon. I’ve always thought this format would work better at the end of the season. David Toms, a former member of the Tour’s policy board, has proposed a match-play finale at the Tour Championship, which would feature the top eight to 12 guys in the standings in head-to-head competition for that $10 million pot.
Don’t hold your breath. I turned blue in the face long ago.
Another veteran player with policy board experience conjured this sexy scenario: take the Match Play to Las Vegas and avail it to the gaming industry, which surely would draft odds on individual match-ups more favorably than at a stroke-play event. Again, the chances of that occurring anytime soon are, in Vegas parlance, about 1000-to-1. The Tour is simply too buttoned up to actually consider such a venture, especially with a loyal sponsor tagging along since the Match Play’s inception.
Besides, the bookies would make a killing. Twelve years ago, conventional wisdom suggested the superstars would advance through the bracket in routine fashion, then meet up on the weekend with the occasional Cinderella in tow, but something close to the opposite has happened. The Match Play has proven to be outrageously random in terms of who advances and who doesn’t – any comparisons to college basketball’s March Madness are utterly ludicrous.
It kind of makes sense when you really think about it. If the world’s top 40 golfers would all play to handicaps of plus-3 to plus-7, which is likely the case, the difference between No. 1 and No. 40 is, on any given day, basically negligible. Far more often than not, the eventual champion is a player of renown, but en route to the title, he will find plenty of deposed trillionaires on the side of the road.
Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia
Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.
Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.
Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.
Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.
It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.
The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.
Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son
ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.
Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.
''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''
They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.
''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''
Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.
''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''
Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.
Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.
Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.
Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?
Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.
Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”
Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.
Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.
The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.
Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.