Alternate Shot: Shorten or expand Match Play?

Originally Published: February 28, 2005
ESPN.com/Golf World

After seven years as an official PGA Tour event, the Accenture Match Play Championship seems to have lost a little luster.

What can be done to reclaim worldwide interest from fans? Golf World's Ron Sirak says it should emulate a certain Euro Tour event; ESPN.com's Bob Harig thinks there's a solid format to look at right here in the states.

They square off now in our own match-play format: Alternate Shot.

How can the Match Play Championship be improved?
SHORTEN

There is nothing wrong with the Accenture Match Play Championship that shortening the field and lengthening the matches wouldn't cure. One of the beauties of the format is that it levels the playing field between the competitors. The longer they play, the more likely it is for the cream to rise to the top.

A guy who might not be able to beat Tiger Woods in a four-day, 72-hole stroke-play tournament can, however, knock him off in match play if he has one hot day with the putter.

While we should be embracing the format and fighting to save the only match play event on the PGA Tour schedule, there is a way to increase the chances for top seeds to make it to the finals.

First, reduce the field to 32 players. Then have every match be 36 holes. Under the present format at the Accenture, only the final is 36 holes. A 36-hole match gives a higher seed time to rebound from a bad start or recover from a birdie binge thrown at him by a suddenly hot player.

The match play championship held at Wentworth for the past four decades has a small field with 36-hole matches, and it always produces a deserving winner.

And speaking of deserving winners, anyone who saw the display of golf David Toms put on over the weekend and thinks he is not a deserving champion simply knows nothing about the game. He had two stretches of play -- one Saturday and one Sunday -- of nearly nine holes each that were simply astounding.

This week, each of the matches could have been 72 holes and Toms still would have won. He just played that well.

-- Ron Sirak
Golf World

EXPAND

If you are going to make changes to the Match Play Championship, why not invite everyone to the party?

Make it bigger and better.

The 64-player format is great when the top seeds make it to the weekend. But as we saw again this year, that is no sure proposition. Although Tiger Woods defeated Nick Price in the first round, that's not like Duke vs. Central Florida in basketball. The chances for upsets are huge. And they are not really upsets in golf.

To give the Match Play Championship some spice, why not invite a full field of, say, 144 players? Cut to the low 60s and ties after two rounds of stroke play. Those who don't make the cut don't get paid, just like in a regular tour event. Then have a third round of stroke play to narrow the field to 16 players. If there are ties, have a playoff for the final spots.

To keep the stroke-play portion interesting beyond the bottom spots, pay a $200,000 bonus to the medalist.

From there, seed them in order of finish.

Under this format, you could start the stroke-play portion on Wednesday, with match play not beginning until the weekend. Will all the top names make it to the weekend? No, but over 54 holes of stroke play, a good number of them are sure to get there.

Maybe Phil Mickelson squeaks into the top 16 and gets a matchup with Vijay Singh on Saturday morning. Then you have semifinal matches Sunday morning to set up Sunday afternoon's title match.

The U.S. Amateur has used a similar qualifying format for much of its 100-plus years. Why not try it in the Match Play?

-- Bob Harig
ESPN.com

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