Match Play future up in the air

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 25, 2014 at 3:14 pm •  Published: February 25, 2014
Advertisement
;

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."