Rather than being the weird in-law who makes an appearance a few times a year, match play events should be a more regular feature of the PGA Tour for a variety of reasons.
Even if you don't love the format, everybody wins if, say, the John Deere Classic is notable for more than green tractors and bland champions (Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry in the last five years, for example).
Collectively, Ian Poulter and Keegan Bradley posted a 7-1-0 record at this year’s Ryder Cup. More than just their stellar records, though, the two golfers competed with a level of intensity and enthusiasm that neither seems to muster during stroke play events. Beyond this, the two competed with a level of passion that dwarfed that of their respective teammates.
Poulter has played this way across several Ryder Cups. His determined performances have been great acts in the larger drama of the competitions. Bradley, who looked like a fidgety lunatic at Medinah, was playing for the United States for the first time. We can only hope both will continue to compete with the same fervor in 2014 at Gleneagles.
However, we should have more than a handful of opportunities between now and 2014 to see the rabid mongoose and the zealous peacock competing in the match play format. Additional match play tournaments on the PGA Tour Calendar would accomplish this.
The PGA Championship was a match play event prior to 1958. It is now the only major without a gimmick beyond the fact that club professionals qualify to play in the event and shoot 83. This year’s story was equal parts Rory McIlroy trouncing the field and bad weather trouncing everyone. Had the rains not come and the winds not blown after the first day, McIlroy could have finished at -26 rather than -13 (remember, McIlroy was -5 after the opening round). That’s not a major championship setup.
Over the last 10 years, the winning score has been, on average, nearly -10. Again, not appropriate for a major.
The Masters is, well, the Masters, and the Open Championship is a links style challenge rich in tradition. And if the U.S. Open is the ultimate test of a golfer’s ability to manage a course and execute shots, then the PGA Championship is like the scrawny younger brother of the that tournament. To distinguish itself, the PGA Championship should revert to a match play format.
Although not a perfect system, the FedEx Cup Playoffs have created end-of-the-season intrigue and drama where little existed previously. This is well and good. However, there are still lower-tier events on the PGA Tour Calendar that could use an infusion of match play theater or at the least profit from the gimmick of a match play format.
Perhaps the Humana Challenge at La Quinta or the Zurich Classic ought to become a match play event? Maybe the Byron Nelson or the Crowne Plaza Invitational—both of which are declining in popularity and strength of field? Even with the revisions engendered by the FedEx cup, there are still multiple tournaments (not played the week before a major) that could use a shot of adrenaline. Match play would be just the thing.
The truism that “anything can happen in match play” has probably been around as long as, well, match play. For example, Tiger Woods, three-time winner of the Accenture Match Play championship, has lost to the likes of Nick O’Hern, Chad Campbell and Stephen Leaney in the event.
A bracketed single elimination match play playoff is a much more level playing field than a 72-hole stroke play tournament. The number of contingent possibilities are significantly more numerous, assuming that anyone can be beaten. From the golf fan’s point of view, that’s a very exciting thing. Too much match play would change the nature of professional golf, but a bit more of it would be a good thing.
The No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world battled in a stroke play exhibition match a few weeks ago in China. The two laughed their way around the golf course and then, jointly, to the bank. Beyond this, though, McIlroy and Woods have not competed head-to-head in any format, let alone match play.
The addition of a match play event to the PGA Tour calendar, appropriately positioned on the schedule and with a compelling purse, should attract Rory and Tiger. The opportunity to tune in on a Sunday afternoon for such a showdown would be infinitely more compelling than, say, the final round of the Shell Houston Open.
In a traditional PGA Tour stroke play event, suspense builds throughout the four rounds of a tournament, coming to some sort of climax on Sunday afternoon. Perhaps the finish is compelling, or perhaps it is not. Regardless, every tournament proceeds along the same arc, whether it’s the Masters or the Greenbriar Classic.
It a playoff-style match play tournament, however, every match is a micro-drama in and of itself, with all matches building towards the ultimate showdown between the final undefeated players. Such a format is, essentially, a different type of story than the usual PGA Tour tournament...and variety of good stories isn’t a bad thing.