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.
Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational
Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.
The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.
Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs
JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.
Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.
The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.
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. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump
Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.
Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.
None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.
Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.
An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.
Playing with the pros
Tiger, DJ and Faxon
President at the Presidents Cup
Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham
Cart on the green
Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open
Trump golf properties
Reportedly fake TIME covers
Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story
Pros comment on the president
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates. And click here for the full collection of articles.
No. 1: Dec. 18