Allowing ties would improve Match Play format

By Rex HoggardMay 2, 2015, 2:18 am

SAN FRANCISCO – Consider it the wrong execution of the right idea.

Sponsors spooked by too many bracket-busting, early-round exits in recent years at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play wanted a tad less volatility at golf’s most capricious tournament and the PGA Tour responded with a chainsaw, introducing round-robin group play the first three days for this year’s event.

But as well intentioned as the changes may have been the fix doesn’t fit. Players suggested it, confused fans confirmed it and the commissioner all but conceded the Tour will continue to tinker.

“I’ve heard some of that. It’s like when we did the FedEx Cup we learned a lot, we made some changes. We like this but we’ll evaluate it,” commissioner Tim Finchem said on Friday. “We’ll talk to all the players and see how we can make it better.”

The Tour took the best Wednesday in golf, diluted it down to three days of lukewarm excitement and multiplied the least compelling element of the WGC-Match Play, Sunday’s runner-up match, into a Friday filled with consolation matches.

WGC-Cadillac Match Play: Articles, videos and photos

All told, 22 players set out on Friday competing for nothing more then pride, a purse and points, be they world ranking or FedEx Cup. Eight matches were meaningless thanks to the new round-robin format that although well intentioned is still in need of a few nip/tucks.

Indifference among those assured nothing more than a trip home on Friday led Tour officials to warn at least one player that he would be fined for unprofessional conduct if he were to concede his match on the first hole on Day 3, an option that is allowed under the Rules of Golf.

While purists balk at the notion that something is wrong with match play, in the modern media era one-and-done formats are about as appealing as an automatic press, and group play would seem to be no answer.

Where things got sideways was when the Tour attempted to reinvent the wheel. Instead of following the format used at the Volvo World Match Play Championship on the European Tour, the PGA Tour used a record-based system that didn’t allow for ties instead of a points-based model (two points for a win, one point for a tie) that allows for halved matches.

Henrik Stenson, unaware of the differences between the formats, walked off the 18th green on Wednesday thinking he’d just halved his match with John Senden only to have the Australian explain that they still had some work to do.

“I wasn’t keen for the format to change and finding out after I walked off the 18th heading for the clubhouse with a half-game [point] that we had to keep on going, that didn’t put me in a more favorable position for the format,” Stenson said on Wednesday after losing the match in 19 holes.

Had the European format been used this week, Stenson would have begun Friday with three points and tied with Senden, who along with Rickie Fowler locked up his spot in Saturday’s Sweet 16 on Thursday thanks to complicated and confusing math.

In fact, had the frat brothers played for points and ties, only 16 players would have been eliminated before Friday’s play, which is still not a best-case scenario but better than the alternative (22).

It is telling that with few exceptions, Martin Kaymer in Group 5 being the most notable, the results from the group-play portion of the event would have been the same using the European format, the crucial difference being that more players had something more meaningful to play for than world ranking percentage points.

An inherent American aversion to ties aside, the European model would be a good starting point as Tour officials go back to the drawing board.

“I think a tie should mean something,” Justin Rose said. “If you’re going to call it a World Cup-style format a point means something, a half-point means something which makes a tie mean something. If the half-points are in play guys like Stenson would have had a chance today.”

Of course, the Tour’s primary motivation to revisit the format may have more to do with who isn’t in the field on Saturday. Contrary to conventional wisdom that suggested the new format would yield better weekend fields the Match Play maintained its giant-killer persona.

Just five of the 16 top-seeded players from each group advanced to the knockout rounds, a body blow that sent the likes of world No. 2 Jordan Spieth and No. 3 Stenson packing.

With that kind of diminishing returns it’s safe to say the Match Play is still a work in progress.

Getty Images

Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.