ESPN's Coverage of Accenture Match Play Championship Fails

Stephen HennesseyCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2009

After Tim Clark’s birdie putt rolled into the par-3 15th hole, so did ESPN’s coverage of the golf’s world match play championship.

Clark, a South African native ranked 33rd in the world, knocked out Tiger Woods in the second round of the Accenture Match Play championship Thursday afternoon.

Although this tournament is one of few world championships played in the United States, ESPN failed to give it the justice it deserves, only mentioning it for a few moments in its 6 p.m. Sportscenter segment. Australian Geoff Ogilvy played seven rounds of nearly perfect golf, shooting 25-under par in 66 holes.

ESPN had commercials, Sportscenter segments, and experts featured on its channel leading up to this tournament for one reason: Tiger Woods’s return.

All week long, we heard about how incredible the recovery time was for Woods. After undergoing ACL surgery this summer, experts predicted he would make his 2009 appearance at April’s Masters. Instead, he announced he would play in this weekend’s tournament.

Although he looked impressive in his first-round victory over Brendan Jones, he did not follow that up the following day. On Thursday, his approach shots and putting was shoddy at times, marked by a tee shot that hit the cart path and skipped over a fence out of bounds.

It is unfortunate the media storm around Woods’ return only focused on him, because other great golfers shined in this WGC event.

Ogilvy now owns the highest winning percentage in the tournament’s history, eclipsing Woods with a 17-2 record. Always known as one of the most solid ball strikers on the tour, the Aussie displayed an incredible short game—he pitched in shots from off the green three times on the weekend. His flawless play now places him first on the FedEx Cup leaderboard.

Rory McIlroy, a short 19-year-old with long, curly hair from Northern Ireland was equally impressive this weekend. Even though he was playing in his first tournament in the United States, the teenager showed no signs of nerves, as he made it to the quarterfinals of the tournament, only to lose to Ogilvy.

Commentators on The Golf Channel compared him to Tiger Woods, even saying that his game may be more advanced than Woods’s was at this age.

It’s too bad that ESPN could not show the world one of the sports’ rising stars. Swing after swing, McIlroy placed the ball on the fairway with remarkable consistency. Unfortunately, ESPN wasn’t equally consistent covering this championship.

Despite conceding his match because of a wrist injury, Luke Donald made his presence known this weekend. Donald defeated last year’s FedEx Cup champion Vijay Singh, runner-up at the U.S. Open, Ben Curtis, and brought veteran Ernie Els to the last hole. In five starts this season, Donald has placed in the top 25 in all of them, including three top 10 finishes.

The audience for these type of golfers are potentially watching Sportscenter, except they aren’t fed Tiger only footage on a daily basis. Of course, Woods is one of the most popular professional athletes in the world, the best golfer of our generation, and one of the best golfers of all-time. He deserves to be covered extensively.

However, when he is out of a tournament, and still dominates the headlines of a world championship, this is foolish. Instead of focusing fully on Woods, give people the headlines about up-and-coming golfers.

It doesn’t take a lot of work, because the stories are out there—these amazing golfers are making them happen.