Changes made to Match Play; more change to come

By Rex HoggardJuly 2, 2014, 5:58 pm

The WGC-Match Play Championship needed a tune-up, a little nip/tuck around the frayed edges to go along with its new digs at TPC Harding Park. Instead, PGA Tour officials have opted for an extreme makeover of professional golf’s most unique event.

As was first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, officials announced Wednesday afternoon the Match Play’s move to Harding Park from the rugged and isolated confines of Dove Mountain in Tucson, Ariz., where the event has been played since 2007.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem also revealed at the news conference held at San Francisco’s City Hall that the event will undergo a dramatic format change, adopting World Cup-like group play for the first three days followed by “knockout” play on Saturday and Sunday.

 The field of 64 will be divided into 16 four-player “groups” with three days of round-robin match play with the winner of each group advancing to Saturday’s Sweet 16, addressing the elephant in the Match Play room that made the event such a difficult sell to sponsors.

The one-and-done nature of the event may be the essence of match play but it is also why potential title sponsors have shied away from the hefty price tag.

Consider that Tiger Woods hasn’t advanced past the second round at the Match Play since 2008 and has headed out of town on Wednesday afternoon twice in the last four years; while Phil Mickelson has made it to Friday just once since 2007.

“Over time, the best players rise to the top, so we think that'll be positive as it goes into the weekend,” Finchem said on Wednesday. “We think it's a new direction for the Match Play for sure but one that's going to create a lot more enthusiasm and excitement.”

Under the new format, the folks who are paying the bills – and those deep pockets remain a mystery – are assured a full marquee for at least three days, although given the event’s interim spot on the calendar it remains to be seen what kind of field will gather next spring in San Francisco.

For all the positive steps the event took on Wednesday – and make no mistake a move to Harding Park is an inspired choice in a golf-starved market – news that the WGC will be played April 29-May 3 is curious.

The new date, which according to various sources is a one-year arrangement, would shoehorn the event between the Zurich Classic in New Orleans and The Players, which is not exactly the most geographically conducive spot.

The awkward date is at least partially the byproduct of a European Tour regulation that requires members of that circuit to play in their country’s open, and the Spanish Open is scheduled for May 14-17, which would have been the first available spot on next year’s schedule.

Traditionally, many of Europe’s top players would participate in the Wells Fargo Championship, which has been played the week before The Players, and then travel to TPC Sawgrass.

Perhaps the Continent’s best and brightest will simply do the same thing next year with the Match Play, but a permanent solution for all of the WGC’s woes continues to be elusive.

The 2016 Olympics will wreak havoc on all tour schedules in two years, with the understanding that no “major” golf events would be played during the Games, but beyond that the PGA Tour continues to be searching for a long-term home for the Match Play.

Changing the format is a solid start as is the temporary move to Harding Park – but then any stop that wasn’t Dove Mountain, one of the circuit’s most unpopular venues for years, was going to be an improvement.

But Harding Park will not be a final stop for the event considering the public course is also scheduled to host the 2020 PGA Championship and 2025 Presidents Cup. Tour officials aren’t keen on sharing venues.

Rotating the event between different venues, like officials do for The Barclays, is an option but would likely require a date that would allow a wider variety of courses in the summer, and when Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was pressed on a possible move earlier this year he indicated a desire to remain on the West Coast.

In fact, the only thing that seems certain is that the Match Play proved to be a particularly challenging piece of the scheduling puzzle that is always a delicate balancing act between sponsors, players and venues.

The Tour has responded to those challenges with a top-down overhaul. What also seems certain is that Finchem & Co. aren’t finished tinkering.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm