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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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.