Match play format a riddle wrapped in an enigma

By Jason SobelFebruary 25, 2013, 1:28 pm

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods – the top two seeds at this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship – lost within minutes of each other in the opening round. And within minutes of that, social media was abuzz with attacks on the format and suggestions for change going forward.

This tournament is broken and needs to be fixed! No Tiger and no Rory means no interest! There should be fewer players! Double elimination! Something must be done!

Whoa. Slow down, people. I can only bust one myth at a time.

It’s easy to enough to explain away unpredictability in any match play format by intoning one of Woods’ favorite phrases: “It is what it is.” There is a strange paradox in that the very thing which makes it the favorite non-major tournament of so many fans – extreme volatility – also leaves those same people debating how it could be extracted from the event.

First things first: The tourney itself isn’t broken – and if it was, the sole reason that the game’s two top-ranked players didn’t reach the weekend shouldn’t be cause for such contempt. McIlroy and Woods weren’t in the mix together at any of last year’s four major championships, so by this logic would they be broken, too? I sure hope not.

(However, I will easily acquiesce that any event delayed by snow in two of the past three years isn’t without some need for fixing. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to contend that any World Golf Championship event – heavy on the “World” – contested annually in the desert north of Tucson, Ariz., is doing a severe disservice to the original intent of the series.)

This is a tournament that in a decade-and-a-half has never seen its two highest seeds reach the final. Perhaps the closest it came was two years ago, when Luke Donald bested Martin Kaymer after the latter had already locked up newfound status as No. 1 in the world. And guess what? It was hardly a ratings bonanza, which should erase any suspicion that having two of the world’s best will instantly translate into more eyeballs globally.

This week’s final featured a pair of big names – if not the biggest names – in winner Matt Kuchar and runner-up Hunter Mahan. Those still reciting past success for the likes of Kevin Sutherland and Pierre Fulke clearly haven’t been paying attention for the past 11 editions. On those occasions, the following players have teed it up at the Match Play on Sunday afternoon: Woods and Geoff Ogilvy (three times each); Mahan, David Toms, Davis Love III and Paul Casey (twice each); and Kuchar, McIlroy, Donald, Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Stewart Cink, Henrik Stenson and Chris DiMarco.

I dare you: Find one dog in that pack. They may have various levels of Q ratings, but clearly those Sutherland-Fulke days are a thing of the past.

Even so, some are suggesting the only way this event will be considered 'successful' is if the game's two biggest names meet in the final. You know what that's called? The Duel at Jinsha Lake.

I'm referring to last October's one-day money-grab between Woods and McIlroy that – for the right price – was available to spectators online.

That’s dangerous territory. File it under the category of: Careful What You Wish For. So, you want to see Rory and Tiger square off against each other? Unless it happens organically, that idea can feel more than a little unfulfilling. After all, what's the motivation for either to play in any non-major tournament when they can travel the world on a permanent brocation, competing against each other for seven-figure paydays in front of fawning fans?

Essentially, it would purport a two-man league, golf’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals, though theoretically each of these parties could share the winners circle.

If that’s what you’d like the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship to become, stand still while I launch an Arizona snowball in your direction to help knock some sense into you. The beauty of the game is that at the beginning of each week, every competitor in the field has an equal opportunity of winning.

We were reminded of that once again this past week. An event which pessimistically started in the snow and glumly continued with the two top seeds getting ousted early concluded with a pair of big names battling on Sunday afternoon, an image which has become commonplace at this event.

It all recalls an old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This tournament showed once again that it ain’t broke.

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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”