Mickelson at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach
The biggest issue with the Accenture Match Play tournament is there's no controlling who gets to the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. While many fans like the idea of the challenge to win in 18 holes, more people like the idea of watching top players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in matches. Enthusiasm wanes for all but the diehard fans when No. 59 and No. 62 are playing each other for the victory. No offense intended.
Some have suggested having a 36-hole, pre-qualifying cut at the event, thereby eliminating half the field after the first two days, leaving 16 or 32 golfers for match play. But that does not solve the problem of having the top seeds eliminated before the weekend when most people can watch.
What if, instead of having the world Nos. 1-4 or Nos. 1-8 inserted into the early rounds, they were pre-seeded into later rounds so that the rest of the players would battle for the right to meet them?
What if the first three rounds of match play would allow a Saturday matchup of Nos. 1-4 in the world against four who had played their way through the field to Sunday, which might include two matches on that last day.
Or what if the match play started on a Tuesday, and what if the Friday matches included those who had emerged from the field against Nos. 1-8 in the World Golf Rankings.
This year, in the scenario pre-seeding World Nos. 1-4, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson could be in the later matches on Saturday and there would be a good chance for two of them to meet up in the finals. Fans would know ahead of time that those four would be playing on Saturday if they agreed to enter.
If the event started on Tuesday instead of Wednesday, Nos. 1-8 would be added on Friday to play eight who had emerged from early rounds. Right now that would add Justin Rose, Zach Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson or Sergio Garcia, who are tied in eighth place.
Granted, it still would not guarantee a Tiger/Phil or Tiger/Adam or Tiger/Rory match for the final, but it would improve the chances of getting them there.
Is pre-seeding fair for the field? No. But the seedings are not fair for every player now. The 64th player in the field has to face world No. 1 or the top-ranked player in the event. Is that fair to No. 64? Nope. Shouldn't No. 64 have to play No. 63 or 62 or 61 instead of No. 1 in the first match?
In fact, the entire world golf ranking system is wrought with so many questionable factors that there is reason to doubt its fairness or accuracy any given week, nevermind as a measure of entry into tournaments, including the WGC events. Even the FedExCup points, which are related to tournament finishes and therefore money, at least have a resemblance to common sense.
However, the flaw for using them for WGC events is that FedExCup points only rank the players on the PGA Tour, and the WGC events include players from other tours. So that is another set of problems. They have to be ranked somehow, and the World Golf Rankings are what we have.
If we agree that no current system is actually fair and equitable and go with the idea that those who play well will get to top-ranking status in the world, it's a place to start.
Yes, pre-seeding players reeks of favoritism, but it's favoritism that they have earned by getting their world golf ranking up to the top four or top eight. Players know if they are ranked 20th, maybe they don't get the same deal as the guy who is 10th. They accept that. They know if they beat higher-ranked players, their ranks will go up, so they are OK with it.
In the other WGC events, where there are no cuts, the better players have four days to rise to the top, which typically they do. That usually gives a good weekend fan and viewing experience. Tiger Woods, for example, has won the most WGC events, 18 in all.
Pre-seeding the top four or top eight players in the world gives us a better chance for a weekend showdown with big names and still gives player No. 64 a chance to beat player No. 1.
If we are OK with the idea that only the top 64 get to enter the World Golf Championships, and that all of them aren't going to make it to the weekend, can't we be OK with wanting to see the top players in the world—whoever they are—on Saturday and Sunday?