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Matchplay format needs further tweak

Iain Carter | 12:45 UK time, Saturday, 31 October 2009

When Tiger Woods lost his first round clash to Shaun Micheel in the 2006 World Matchplay so began a chain of events that led to the current revamping and relocation of the tournament.

There was only one more running of the popular tournament that had been played every year at Wentworth since 1964 in a straight knock-out form.

The fact that the game's biggest draw only managed a single day at the Championship three years ago proved too much for the then sponsors HSBC who had ploughed in record funds. They ended their agreement halfway through a 10-year deal

After all, it was highly unlikely that Woods would be enticed back to the tournament anyway and the risk of losing the biggest names so early in proceedings made it an increasingly unattractive prospect in the modern era.

So when the new backers stepped in, needing a high-profile replacement in their golf portfolio after the demise of the Volvo Masters, their first priority was to come up with a new matchplay format.

Their four-group round-robin idea has been a success, but doesn't go far enough and a tweaking of the new system should be considered for next year.

Anyone who witnessed the Friday afternoon climax to the group stages must have felt that the twin ideas of playing the early stages in Uefa Champions League-style groups and making every match last the full 18 holes were justified.

Ross Fisher in action at the Volvo World Match Play in SpainEngland's Ross Fisher in action at the Volvo World Match Play in Spain

The final round of group matches were riddled with intrigue and the drama stretched all the way through the closing holes to delight those gathered in the all-important sponsors' tents around the final green at Finca Courtisin on Spain's Costa Del Sol.

The shot of the week would never have been played without the stipulation that all group matches should go the full distance. Anthony Kim had to win the final hole of his clash with Scott Strange to avoid a four-down defeat that would have knocked out the young American.

It was the proverbial or bust for Kim as he surveyed a 274-yard uphill three-wood second to the par 5 last and in Louis Walsh-speak "he nailed it" by knocking it to five feet to win the hole and progress to the semi-finals.

Indeed, there was a certain X Factor to proceedings as each player who made it through to the last four needed to do something special in the final round of group matches to survive.

But by restricting the qualifiers to the top one from each group the organisers missed a trick.

Sergo Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey were all out before they played their final group match while Lee Westwood and Retief Goosen's chances were merely mathematical rather than realistic.

Had the top two from each group gone through there would have been no dead contests in the group stages. It would have produced eight quarter-finalists who could have played for a spot in the semis over 18 holes on the Saturday morning.

The semis could have followed in the afternoon leaving a 36-hole final on the Sunday.

This was the preferred option of the sponsors but golfing officialdom felt that semi-finals over 18 holes would damage the integrity of the tournament. It was a classic case of over-sensitivity.

The World Matchplay mould that dictated all matches be played over 36 holes had already been smashed. They should have gone whole hog.

Nevertheless, there has been plenty to enjoy in the first running of the new version.

The only other downside has been the difficulty of movement for spectators on the mountainous course.

When players are relying on buggies to take them from several greens to tees it makes it all the more difficult for fans to keep pace following matches, which should be one of the delights of watching matchplay.

The atmosphere generated by the galleries at an autumnal Wentworth helped make the event as special as it was and that has been missing in Spain.

Of course, the environment will be somewhat different again when the golfing world decamps to Shanghai next week for the first WGC event to be played in Asia.

Woods and world number two Phil Mickelson headline a stellar field that has a few Americans missing but still represents Asia's strongest ever line-up.

It is unfortunate that the event won't have quite the strength of the other World Golf Championships in the absence of the likes of US Open Champion Lucas Glover, Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry but this just illustrates the current difficulty of globalising such an American based game.

So many US players remain so reluctant to use their passports. But the Shanghai tournament, where US PGA Champion YE Yang will rival Woods for top billing shows the direction golf is taking.

America will not be the epicentre of the game forever and all the current indicators suggest its players will have to get used finding their way to international departures more frequently.

Rather neatly illustrating the point is the fact that HSBC's golf investment is now in Shanghai when once it was Wentworth.

And don't forget pro golfers are like a compass seeking magnetic north - only they tend to go in the direction of money.


  • Comment number 1.

    perfect ian, good one...can't say i disagree w/ this one...

  • Comment number 2.

    Jack Nicklaus had the right answer to eliminate the incessant
    and expensive changes to all our great golf courses - make the TOURNAMENT golf ball HEAVIER thus ensuring all the old hazards are still in play. This will then allow the club golfer to enjoy playing these courses with their own variety of clubs and balls.

  • Comment number 3.

    Your characterization that "US players remain so reluctant to use their passports" is out of line. If you read the articles on the Golf Board, you would realise that their Tour is not supporting this faux "WGC" in anything other than name, no credit as a Tour event, no official PGA Tour prize money, no FedEx implications; your snide dig is misplaced and should be aimed at Tim Finchem.

    In fact, if your article was sent to the Golf Board it would probably have been taken down by the 606 moderators.

  • Comment number 4.


    I always regard your comments with great respect, am aware of what's said on the boards and know how Shanghai's being treated in the States. Fact is that if the HSBC was being played in the US they'd all be there.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good ideas Ian but I must pick you up on your writing: golfers were "nailing" 3 woods long before anyone had heard of Louis Walsh. Golf does not deserve to be dumbed down to X factor level.

  • Comment number 6.

    You're right of course, but if it was played in the States it would have been accorded PGA Tour status, an official event, official prize-money, etc, and it would have been played at a different type of year.
    You and I both agree that the insularity of the PGA Tour is bad for golf, but in this case I think you'd agree that it is the Tour that has failed to support the event, rather more than the players.
    Iain: Apologies for MY snide remark about the moderators; we're having a very hard time right now with 606 moderation, but my comment to you was out of line.

  • Comment number 7.

    I love your 5Live coverage and this blog, but.....Camilo Villegas' name is not Camio Vijegas. The single "l" in Camilo is pronounced, hence Camilo. His surname is a difficult one; I have very occasionally (especially in Argentina) heard "ll" pronounced "j", but normally the nearest English pronunciation is a "y", hence Viyegas. Sorry to be pedantic! Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 8.

    Spot on with the quater finals on the Saturday morning followed by semis in the afternoon and although i realise that this new venue is locked in for a few years, i'd like to see a big tournament such as this back at Valderrama, since the demise of the Volvo Masters. It's just too good a course not to be hosting tour events, and would be well suited to a matchplay format with those cracking closing holes.


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