AUSTIN, Texas – With 64 of the world’s top 66 showing up two weeks before the Masters, this should be a time to celebrate a welcome format change from stroke play.
Turns out, the new and compressed schedule dynamics had no effect on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Gone are the days of top players dreading “the vagaries” of match play.
Yet we’re back to the same old, same old match play chatter: the sponsor isn’t happy with the format. After years of everyone hating to see top players headed to the airport on Wednesday night, the WGC consists of three guaranteed matches via pool play followed by single elimination over the weekend, leaving only four players to entertain the galleries.
Translation: not enough golfers are passing by the corporate tents on weekends even though attention on the golf is fleeting at best, non-existent when the shrimp cocktails come out.
What should be one of the premier titles in golf and played at the game’s oldest format has been undermined intermittently by sponsor concerns about match play’s legitimacy as entertainment, even as the dynamics of head-to-head play have raised match play’s stock. Before Dell saved this event, Accenture nobly put up lavish money to support the match play and Commissioner Tim Finchem fought to keep the format on the schedule. The game has been better for it, even if the current schedule spot and round-robin setup are far from perfect.
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And now Dell Technologies wants a fresh look taken at the format, leading to the sponsor making an asinine proposal to contest match play early in the week with the goal of getting to a weekend of stroke play.
Players, mercifully, voted down that stinker of an idea, though it’s a mystery how such a lousy idea even made it to the Player Advisory Council’s agenda. Rex Hoggard reported for GolfChannel.com that the PAC rejected a proposal requested by Dell Technologies to double the number of players advancing out of the match play to 32, setting up a weekend 36-hole stroke play finish.
Lamer format ideas have been floated in the history of golf, though I’m at a loss right now to name one.
While everyone involved has different views on the best way to crown a match play winner, there is universal agreement on one thing: the WGC Dell Match Play should be decided at … match play. Reportedly, a question from Paul Casey about what the event would be called under the new format helped players say no to Dell, an otherwise fantastic sponsor that has poured millions into this event.
In some ways, players are to blame for even opening the conversation up to allow the suggestion. The old one-and-done format was tough on players making a long voyage across the Atlantic, prompting the current round-robin setup that players embraced for giving them more competitive days, while lamenting the difficulty of grinding on day three with no hope of advancing. Increasingly, players have wanted to go back to the old one-and-done, forgetting all of the headaches that created.
While never perfect, the Dell Technologies edition of this event has been stronger thanks to the new format, even if it chips away at the urgency of playing every match with your tournament hopes on the line.
Keeping stars around and happy to play match play are really good things. So is match play. All week long.
WGC-Dell Technologies Match-Play Bracket
Here is the complete bracket for the tournament: