Maginnes On Tap: Unpredictability of match play

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

I love match play. It is the preferred method of gambling for golfers everywhere.

It is the purest form of golf and it stinks for television and radio.

The entertainment value of two lesser known players pitted against each other holds little allure for golf fans. I wish I was wrong, heck I was a lesser-known player than the lesser-known players that I am talking about.

But it's true and we boyh know it.

That is why we only have one match-play tournament a year on the PGA Tour and it is an elite field.

The PGA of America figured that out in 1958 when the PGA Championship went from match play to a 72-hole medal play competition before most of us were born.

The issue isn't that the matches aren't exciting. It could be argued that Wednesday of the Accenture Match Play is the most exciting day of golf of the year. That is part of the problem - it starts on Wednesday. No one, not the players, their families, the media or the PGA Tour's staff like the fact that they have to be at work on Wednesday morning. Imagine if you were any European Tour player who finished playing in India on Sunday and then had to get to Tucson for the first-round matches.

Heck, the PGA Tour players aren't too happy about it and they were an hour away by air in L.A.

The other issue is that anyone in the field can beat anyone else in the field. Sure it was cool when Nick O'Hern beat Tiger. But wrapped in the "wow-factor" is the fact that in the very next session of matches we had Nick O'Hern and not Tiger. Even Tiger haters have to prefer watching Tiger to the likeable Aussie.

Then there is the fact that this is a World Golf Championship and not a major. I am not advocating one of the majors becoming a mano-y-mano slugfest. But winning a major changes a players life and his perception in the golf world. Winning the Match Play means that you beat six guys and pocketed enough money to retire. If it is Tiger or Rory that wins the Accenture Match Play, then we have a great week of golf in front of us.

But if Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and George Coetzee eliminate Tiger and Rory (respectively) in the first round, we could be in for a long week. This is not like the NCAA Tournament where upsets are real upsets and the best teams are instantly recognizable. Some players are just not very good at match play while others thrive in the unique arena. Ian Poulter is a match-play guru. But I bet even Ian Poulter looked at his first round match-up and wondered what to make of it. He is playing PGA Tour rookie Sang-moon Bae, who won the Japanese order of merit a year ago and then navigated Q-School here in the States. In other words this is an ultra-talented Asian kid with absolutely nothing to lose.

The same things that make match play so exciting are the reasons that it is a tough television sell. A match can end in two hours or take more than five hours. Last year at the U.S. Public Links Championship, both the men’s and women’s finals went the distance with the men’s going an extra hole. The Golf Channel coverage went over by nearly two hours. There is just no way to know when a match is going to end. When Tiger beat Stewart Cink in 2008, 8 and 7, there was the potential for another hour or two of golf. Even in a regular PGA Tour event or a major you can reasonably predict when it will end.

The truth is this could be the most exciting week of the year or a weekend that sees TV ratings take a hit. It all depends on the unpredictability of match play. Hardcore golf fans will watch even if R.C. Bello is playing Peter Hanson in the finals, maybe. But they will certainly watch if two titans of the game like Tiger and Ernie or Rory and Luke are going head to head on Sunday.

Either way the unpredictable nature of this event make it a great conversation piece this week even though we don’t really know now who we will be talking about later.

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