Match Play trying to find a format that works

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2017, 9:10 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Early last year, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley offhandedly referred to his circuit’s match-play event as a “bastardized” version of the format.

It was neither apology nor epilogue for the event, just the way of the world.

The ancient format may be the purest form of competition in some golf circles, but at the professional level match play just doesn’t work, at least not on an individual basis.

For all the excitement that the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup generate each fall, the one-and-done finality of individual match play is a square peg in the round hole that is professional golf, which is how the PGA Tour ended up with the round-robin format that will be used at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Group play neatly cured two of match play’s biggest ills – Tour types who weren’t keen to be packing up on Wednesday afternoon and corporate officials who were even less keen when one of those one-and-done victims was a star.

But for everything the new format – which features three days of group play that cuts the field to 16 followed by single-elimination matches on Saturday and Sunday – fixed, there are just as many reasons to be disgruntled.

Henrik Stenson, one of five players who skipped this week’s event at Austin Country Club, specifically mentioned the round-robin format, which began in 2015, as one of the reasons for his no-show.

“I was not that keen on the round robin,” Stenson said earlier this month. “To me, match play is do or die. Either I win or I lose. I kind of like that format.”

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Adrift in the irony of the new format is the fact that the Tour took the best Wednesday in golf and watered it down to three semi-entertaining days of group play. Lost in the new format is the central theme that every match brought with it the intensity of a Sunday in contention.

Instead, for three days players jockey for position within their groups, buoyed by the notion that a loss may hurt their chances of advancing to the Sweet 16 but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee their fate.

Consider Jason Day the authority on the distinctions between the old and new formats.

In 2013, the Australian survived a 22-hole shootout on Day 2 against Billy Horschel on his way to the championship, which he won in 23 holes.

Although Day went undefeated last year on his way to his second WGC-Match Play victory, the intensity, at least for the first three days, just wasn’t the same.

“I like the other way where it's just you either win or you go home, because it forces you to go out and play,” said Day, who conceded the first year of the new format took some adjusting to. “I need to play well here. If I don't play well then I'm going home. I'm going to watch these guys on the weekend, because I really want to be here. I'll take either way, but I like the kind of format before.”

Gone under the new format are the types of upsets that made Day 1 at the Match Play a must-watch for many fans. Unlike the NCAA Tournament, there really aren’t true Cinderella stories at the Match Play, but that didn’t make the early upset any less entertaining. Just ask Charles Howell III, who “upset” then overall second-seeded Tiger Woods in Round 1 at the ’13 Match Play, 2 and 1.

“There was definitely a lot of pressure with the one-and-done format,” Howell said. “I understand why they went to this format, but there is something about a do-or-die that was appealing. You knew 32 guys were packing up and leaving on Wednesday. That Wednesday was probably more exciting than this Wednesday, that’s the fairest way I can say it.”

Not every player misses the old format, particularly considering the event’s move to late March which would make an early exit just two weeks before the year’s first major championship a scheduling non-starter for some.

“You have a better sense of who is playing good or not; it’s a more fair system to find out, OK these guys are playing the best,” Brandt Snedeker said. “So when you do get to the knock-out stage, you know the 16 best guys are in there. It’s better for TV, it’s better for us, gives us a chance to learn the golf course.”

According to various sources, Tour officials aren’t doubling-down on the round-robin format just yet. Stenson told reporters earlier this month at the Valspar Championship that he’s proposed a modified format similar to that used at the U.S. Amateur, where the field plays 36 holes of stroke play with only the top players advancing to match play.

“You could potentially even put another couple of guys in the field if you wanted to, to start with,” Stenson said. “Then you get to make sure that everyone is around for a little bit.”

At least under Stenson’s model the spirit, if not the letter, of match play is maintained, but it still doesn’t return the event to the glory years when Wednesday at the Match Play was a reason to call in sick to work and pay attention because for half the field it was going to be a short week.

Now that was intense.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

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

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

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.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

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 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

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

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.