Match Play future up in the air
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — During a 7½-minute chat with reporters on the Match Play Championship future, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem used the word “change” only once when he said, “I wouldn’t assume we’re going to change at this point.” On two occasions he said, “I wouldn’t rule out anything.”
Glad to get that cleared up.
The future depends largely on whether — or how quickly — the tour can find a title sponsor to replace Accenture. A sponsor would have a lot of input on where it was played. While the players were not fond of Dove Mountain, Accenture loved being at The Ritz-Carlton.
Colombia remains a big part of the discussion. It’s critical for golf to make a good first impression in the Olympics in 2016 — the IOC decides in 2017 whether to keep it on the program beyond 2020 — and getting South American fans acclimated to the highest level of golf wouldn’t hurt.
The Match Play Championship hasn’t left the U.S. since it went to Australia in 2001 and 28 players didn’t show up. That was mainly because it was held so close to the holidays. Then again, there is concern a move out of the country would keep some players (most Americans) from going.
Thomas Bjorn noted the absence last week of Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson and said, “You’ve got to be careful that you don’t put it out where more guys say no. It’s a big deal that they’re not here. If it goes to Colombia, you still get 90 percent of the guys. And you’ll be missing a few.
“Tiger and Phil not here matter this week,” he said. “Any World Golf Championship, if they’re not teeing it up, loses the feel of a big event. The tour needs to speak to them.”
The only hint Finchem offered was that the tour would not be inclined to take the Match Play to an existing market, citing La Costa (20 miles from Torrey Pines) as an example. Tucson is not out of the picture, though Dove Mountain is most likely out. Finchem noted how such a large property kept down the energy (noise) level.
Finchem also said this would be a good time to “dust it off and see if there’s a better way to do it” when asked about the format. A sponsor and TV might prefer a model where players are guaranteed at least a couple of days, and one plan getting the most attention is 36 holes of stroke play to qualify for match play.
He hopes to have a solution in the next month or so.
GOOD RETURNS: A year ago, the only way Jordan Spieth could get into a PGA Tour event was through help of a sponsor’s exemption. By the end of the year, he was a PGA Tour winner and regarded as one of the rising stars in golf.
He has a two-year exemption. He is No. 12 in the world ranking. He’s in all four majors. He has the Ryder Cup on his mind.
And he has a balancing act in his sophomore season.
Spieth can set his own schedule, but he also wants to honor the tournaments that gave him his start.
“I’m going to do both,” the 20-year-old Texan said. “I love playing in my home state. But it’s a fine line of not playing every event and owing back to those who helped me get here. If I end up playing a lot of golf, I’ll be OK. I’m young.”
He hasn’t determined his schedule going forward. Spieth already has played Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, two tournaments that gave him exemptions a year ago (he loves Pebble Beach, anyway). He got his biggest break by tying for second in Puerto Rico, but that’s the same week as the World Golf Championship in Doral for which he’s eligible.
Spieth played 23 tournaments last year. He expects that number to be at least 25 this season. The only events he didn’t play last year for which he now is eligible are the Masters, The Players Championship, U.S. Open and Bridgestone Invitational.
“The best advice I got was from Zach Johnson,” Spieth said. “He told me to make sure I had a two-week break somewhere.”
REDEMPTION: Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but two players who had become regulars on U.S. teams are off to good starts this year after being left off the Presidents Cup team last fall at Muirfield Village — Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson.
Johnson talked about the motivation of being at home when he won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Since then, he tied for sixth at Kapalua and was runner-up in consecutive weeks at Pebble Beach and Riviera.
Watson wasn’t even considered as a captain’s pick for Muirfield Village. In his last three events, he was runner-up in Phoenix, won at Riviera and reached the third round of Match Play.
“It motivates you watching it on TV,” Watson said. “I had the second worst year since I’ve been on tour, so I knew what I needed to do. Bad golf motivates me.”
QUEL DOMMAGE: This was only the second time in 16 years that the final of the Match Play Championship went extra holes.
Both times, the losing player was from France.
With an asterisk.
Victor Dubuisson lost in 23 holes to Jason Day of Australia. The other runner-up when the championship match went overtime was Andrew Magee, who lost to Jeff Maggert’s chip-in at La Costa in 1999.
Magee was born in Paris.
MJ AND POULTER: Ian Poulter made his debut hosting a show on SiriusXM and included an amusing tale from the Ryder Cup involving Michael Jordan.
Poulter said the Chicago Bulls great, a presence at the Ryder Cup the last several years, was watching what turned out to be the pivotal match Saturday afternoon when he and McIlroy defeated Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. Poulter birdied his last five holes that match.
“I remember walking off the tee box at 13, looking over and he kind of wagged his — I don’t know if you can call it a finger, it looked like an arm — this big finger comes up and he was wagging it at me, pulling a face as if to say, ‘We’ve got you,’” Poulter said on the show two weeks ago.
McIlroy made a big birdie on the 13th to start the comeback — Europe was 2-down through 12 in the match. Poulter took it from there. He recalled seeing Jordan again on the 15th, staring at him.
“I’m a little golfer, Ian Poulter, playing golf in the Ryder Cup, and there’s legend basketball player Michael Jordan psyching me out in the Ryder Cup,” he said. “And you know what? I said, ‘I’m gonna hole this putt.’ He’d done that for so many years on a basketball court. He hit the shot time and time again. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to allow him to get in my space.’
“He was playing his basketball game and ... it was my court, and he’s not playing ball.”
DIVOTS: With Adam Scott at No. 2 and Jason Day at No. 4, Australia has two players in the top five of the world ranking for the first time since July 2008 (Scott and Geoff Ogilvy). ... Miguel Angel Jimenez has made Pablo Larrazabal and Thorbjorn Olesen his two captain’s picks for the EuraAsia Cup on March 27-29 in Kuala Lumpur. The rest of the European team includes the captain, Thomas Bjorn, Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Stephen Gallacher, Joost Luiten and Graeme McDowell. All 10 were in the Match Play Championship last week. ... Anna Nordqvist at the Honda LPGA Thailand was the first Swede to win on the LPGA Tour since Maria Hjorth at the 2011 Avnet LPGA Classic.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Jason Day’s victory in the Match Play Championship ended a pair of American streaks — 13 consecutive wins in PGA Tour events and four straight wins in the World Golf Championships.
FINAL WORD: “I don’t see it as being in a groove. I’m just not in a slump right now.” — Bubba Watson, who has four top 10s in six starts this season, including a win at Riviera and a runner-up finish in Phoenix.