Golfs Playing Field Level Now

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Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington are here in the States this week. So is Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Thomas Bjorn, Ian Poulter, Joakim Haeggman and Graeme McDowell have flown over. So have Trevor Immelman and Alex Cjeka.
 
Out in Carlsbad, Cal., they all have gathered from the European Tour for the first big clash of the biggies of golf. They, among several others whose home was originally in Europe, will swap shots with the Americans on hand at La Costa for the World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play. Thats a dozen European Tour stars who are among the top 65 in the world, leading some cynics to wonder what kind of statement it makes about the American game.
 
Phil Mickelson knows. Its painfully obvious to anyone who cares to check out the situation on one very important world stage.
 
It's really not that surprising given our Ryder Cup performance, is it? Mickelson said. That they're up on top, it's not surprising to anyone.
 
Not just the European Tour stars are here, but so are the Australians, the Japanese, South Africans, and several other international stars. Some would say that the American game is in a state of decline. Mickelson, though, doesnt see world golf through an American flag. He sees it through a United Nations flag. Just because American dominance has declined somewhat doesnt mean the game is any less interesting, he says.
 
No, no, not at all, Mickelson believes. I'm a fan of the game of golf, not just American golf. I like to see it grow throughout the world, and that's what it's been doing, and it's been evident in the performance of so many international players.
 
I think that the quality of the golf across the world, international golf has improved greatly, not just in the UK, but in Australia and Asia; different parts of the world it's improved vastly. '
 
These world gatherings take place several times a year now. There are four of these World Golf Championships. There are the four major championships. And there is the Players Championship, the PGA Tours party which might be the grandest of them all.
 
Of course, Americas best havent been very inclined to cross the ocean, either the Atlantic or Pacific, to participate when the confab changed venues. Mickelson is among the guilty. He points out that he has a young family to look after, and a trans-oceanic trip takes him away from home for three weeks just to play one tournament. But he does think the Match Play, for instance, does try to accommodate the Yanks when it is moved around.
 
When it was moved to Australia, they did a couple of things to accommodate it, such as having the following week tournament in Hawaii, which made it a lot easier, he said. So I would probably do that, yes.
 
But he, like the absent Ernie Els and countless other world players, would like to see some changes made in the format which would guarantee a losing player more than one round. The way the Match Play is currently configured, a player might come 8,000 miles just to play 15 or 16 holes and be knocked out on opening day. Surely, Mickelson says, there are ways to ensure against that eventuality.
 
In my perfect world, I would like to see the format slightly altered, he said. I'd like to see the first three rounds - 54 holes - Wednesday through Friday, played stroke play and knock it down to the top eight.
 
Then I wouldn't have a problem going anywhere throughout the world to do that because I'd feel with 54 holes of stroke play you can have that first round not be perfect and still get in the top eight. And I feel like it gives the top players a little bit better chance of getting into the match play format for the weekend I wish it would go to that. I understand why it doesn't, but I just would feel more comfortable traveling around the world with a format closer to that.
 
Most of the Internationals are staying in America to play in Florida for the next month. But certainly not all of them ' some have no choice but to return to Europe or Japan or Australia. And if this tournament were moved to, say, South Africa, then everyone would be in danger of the quick one-and-done. Most would only play three days. Only a very fortunate few would get through to Saturday.
 
It makes Americans seem awfully insular when given the option of moving this particular tournament around the world. But maybe they really arent. Maybe this tournament needs to be tweaked a little so everyone can enjoy three days of golf ' Americans, Brits, Australians, South Koreans, South Africans ' everyone.
 
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