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  • Alistair Tait

Old fashioned match play golf please

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

Match play tournaments are normally fairly simple. Unless it’s a team competition like the Ryder, Solheim, Curtis or Walker Cup, you either win or you lose. Win and you advance to next round. Lose and you’re out of the tournament.

Easy, peasy, lemon something or other…

That was previously true of this week’s WGC–Dell Technologies Match Play. It was a straight knockout event from its inception in 1999 until 2015 when it turned into a Champions League format featuring 16 groups of four, with a robin format and the top player from each group qualifying through to the knockout stages.

Bye, bye simple.

It means the prospect of Friday’s play in Austin, Texas featuring dead rubber matches with the two players having no chance of advancing into the last 16. Fun huh?

I know there's a wee bit more prize money at stake for finishing third rather than last. However, as I pointed out yesterday, these guys have so much money playing for a wee bit extra is mere chump change to them. In the case of the 2019 Match Play – Covid-19 took care of last year’s event – the difference was €2,003.20. About a fiver to you and me.

True, there are more world ranking points for finishing third in the group instead of last, but the difference is minimal.

Both rewards are hardly going to pump up those with no chance of qualifying for the knockout rounds. Hopefully the sheer pleasure of a round of match play will be motivation enough. Aye, that’ll be right! I still think most players would rather be back home than have to spend another day in the desert playing a nothing match.

The groups are arranged so the 16 players highest on the Official World Golf Ranking go into separate pods, the next 16 do so too, and same for the third and fourth best 16s.

In theory, the strongest players should emerge into the match play stages, with a star name hopefully winning the whole shebang. The danger of a straight head-to-head match play formula is that the big players get knocked out early, leaving less than marquee names fighting it out for the title. TV executives don’t like that. Ratings and such. It’s one reason why there aren’t more match play tournaments on the professional tours despite it being the original form of golf, that and having to fill scheduled air-time when the final produces the dreaded dog licence.

So much for the marquee winner theory two years ago. Kevin Kisner (pictured) was ranked 50th in the world and walked off with the title. Well done Kisner. He fully deserved his win.

Isn’t that the beauty of match play: lesser players can beat better players, the maxim that anything can happen in 18-hole match play and probably will? Sweden’s Lucas Bjerregaard made a name for himself two years ago when he defeated Tiger Woods in the quarter-finals, the one-hole win coming on the same day he beat compatriot Henrik Stenson 3&2.

Ah, the beauty of match play golf.

The Amateur Championship, due to be played at Nairn Golf Club this year, is one of my favourite tournaments of the year. Like the U.S. Amateur Championship, it has a tried and tested of formula of 36-hole stroke play with the top 64 and ties going through to the knockout stages. No groups stages or round robins, just mano a mano golf.

The Amateur has been going since 1885, with 36-hole qualifying introduced in 1983. It has stood the test of time. It’s produced its fair share of good winners, and occasional inspiring stories of guys who just happened to play well that week. Well done them. To repeat, that’s the beauty of match play golf – lesser players can beat better players on any given day. Remember Costantino Rocca beating in Tiger Woods (1997) and Phillip Price bettering Phil Mickelson (2002) in the Ryder Cup. Fairy tale stuff.

Give me straight up, old fashioned match play any day of the week. Round robins? Honestly!

Maybe I’ll wait for the last 16 round before I start watching.

#JustSaying: “I’ve had a bad week. But in the real world, having a bad week is waking up and finding you’re a steel worker in Scunthorpe.” Nick Faldo at the 1991 Ryder Cup

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