• Golfweek’s complete WGC-Match Play coverage
MARANA, Ariz. – Jammed into five days of competition, the Accenture Match Play Championship featured 64 competitors who played a combined 2,174 holes over a course that was stretched to 7,800 yards (though it seemed like 5,800), while 3,675 jumping cholla plants – or was it 32,763? – made for an intriguing walk that felt like seven miles, 11 if you add in the green-to-tee jaunts.
Of course, the number you kept hearing was 17.
As in “only 17 Americans were in the field.”
True, when compared to the 42 Americans who teed it up in the first Accenture event in 1999 or the 33 who were in this championship in 2004, 17 seems small. But it was still more than twice as many as the next most represented countries (Aussies and South Africans numbered eight each) and if you think 17 was small, what about the poor Scots? They had zero, the same as the Bahamas.
To dwell on 17 is a bit provincial, given that by their very nature these World Golf Championships are supposed to include golfers from, well, all over the world. This year’s field included players from 19 different countries, which is a slight improvement over 1999 (17), but as he watched South African Charl Schwartzel win the final three holes to stun Spain’s Sergio Garcia, England’s Chubby Chandler brushed aside complaints from some Americans that the world rankings are stacked in favor of the Europeans.
“What is happening now is what always happened to our guys,” the player agent said. “The (world rankings) points used to always be heavy in the U.S., but now it’s flip-flopped. There are good points in Europe.”
As the head of International Sports Management, which handles affairs for Ernie Els, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Schwartzel, and the newest sensation, Rory McIlroy, Chandler was at the Accenture in 1999 when only nine pure European Tour names made the field. It was a curiously small number, given that they had won each of the previous two Ryder Cups, but thanks to a commitment to chasing competition around the U.S., many of those European Tour members were eventually able to move up in the rankings and thus go back home and turn their tournaments into big-points affairs.
The byproduct of that could be seen in this year’s 64-player field, where the list of European Tour player numbered 18 and that’s not counting Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, and Padraig Harrington, who play plenty in the U.S., though they remain Europeans at heart.
But to study those numbers leads you to another view of things that shouldn’t be overlooked. Forget 17, for instance, and focus on 42, as in the number of players in this year’s Accenture field who play either all their golf or a good majority of it on the PGA Tour. It reinforces the notion of which is the world’s best tour, and even Chandler noted that for the next seven or eight weeks, “with so many Europeans playing in the U.S., the big-points tournaments will be here.”
In other words, if some American players don’t move up in the rankings, don’t blame the system.
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He was an alternate, for goodness sakes, but Ryo Ishikawa had a small, but passionate group of Japanese media members following his every step at the Accenture. At one point, five photographers clicked away at a smiling young girl who had just been given a golf ball by Ishikawa. To add another layer of silliness to the scene, another photographer snapped a photo of the five photographers taking that photo.
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Which players weren’t in the Accenture field, but should have been? Nick Watney’s name kept coming up, as did D.J. Trahan’s. But for my money, Carl Pettersson sitting outside the top 64 doesn’t compute . . . His reward for putting on a show to beat Tiger Woods in the Accenture? Tim Clark drops one spot in the world rankings . . . Biggest winners not named Geoff Ogilvy at the Match Play? Ross Fisher and Oliver Wilson. They showed that England’s depth runs past Casey, Poulter, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, and Luke Donald.
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When it comes to being poorly managed with an unmatched ability to spend money recklessly, the U.S. government is king of hapless business ventures. So having politicians scrutinize how others businesses spend their money is disconcerting at best, laughable at worst . . . Which makes me wonder: When are the folks at Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters going to fight back in support of their sponsors? . . . Speaking of financial matters, now that Greg Norman has advocated a cutback in purses on the PGA Tour “out of respect to every citizen and taxpayer,” we can only assume that he’s going to lead by example and lower the price of his wine, beef, real estate, and grass, plus offer free rides on his yacht, plane, and helicopter to those having transportation issues.