Match Play format change still leaves meaningless matches
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) The latest format for the Dell Match Play was intended to create more possibilities going into the final day of group matches.
It generated a little more confusion, though the numbers would suggest a slight improvement.
From the 64-man field, 22 players already were eliminated before the final day of round-robin matches. That's the same number as a year ago.
There were six matches on Friday in which nothing was at stake for either player (one was conceded when Daniel Berger withdrew with a sore wrist). A year ago, there were eight matches that had no bearing on who won the group. There were four playoffs, compared with only one last year.
Two players last year, Rickie Fowler and John Senden, clinched a spot in the round of 16 on Thursday. No one did that at Austin Country Club.
The biggest changes this year were the lack of a tie-breaker in group play, and allowing for matches to be halved in group play instead of going extra holes. Chris Kirk defeated Branden Grace in the opening round, while Dustin Johnson beat Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the second round. Because of ties, they had to go to a sudden-death playoff. Kirk and Johnson wound up winning, anyway.
Perhaps the most curious decision was when to start the playoff.
Kirk and Grace were the opening two matches on Friday and won easily. A year ago, they would have gone right back out, cutting in front of players who had yet to begin their match. This time, both had to wait more than two hours until the last match had started. That meant brief interviews, lunch, waiting around and then warming up again.
Why not just send them right out?
A year ago, there were 17 matches in round-robin play that ended up going extra holes. Some players who had warmed up and were ready to go had to wait as much as 30 minutes before they were allowed to tee off. That's why the tournament staff this year decided to make all playoffs on Friday wait until the final match was off.
Was it fair to Grace, who drove into a fairway bunker, flew that over the green and lost with a bogey? Match Play is still about the opponent. Kirk faced the same circumstances.
As for the meaningless matches on Friday, that's the last thing any player wants to face.
''If I find myself in that position, I'm not sure I'd want to go ahead and play,'' Rory McIlroy said. ''But the fans come out and they pay money to come here and see 64 players play the first three days, and I think they deserve to see that. So, yeah, as much as some guys are probably in that position and don't want to play, I think it's the right thing to do to go out there and play and try to win at least one match and head home with maybe a little bit of confidence going into next week.''
TURN OUT THE LIGHTS (FOR NOW): The prime-time match between Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy under the lights in Detroit will have to wait.
The AP reported last month that Quicken Loans was finalizing plans for a Tuesday night match at Detroit Golf Club that would be shown live on Golf Channel and CBS Sports involved two of golf's most popular players and two celebrities.
Negotiations stalled, however, and it was getting too close to June 7 to firm up details involving air time on the networks and lights for Detroit Golf Club.
''We ran out of time to get an agreement confirmed,'' said Sean O'Flaherty, McIlroy's manager.
It would have been the first golf exhibition in prime time on a network since 2005 involving Tiger Woods. Those were played in California, and lights only were used on the final few holes, if necessary.
O'Flaherty did not say what the delay was in negotiations, but that both players remain hopeful it can happen. It just won't be in June.
''We hope to produce a Rory-Rickie game in the future,'' O'Flaherty said. ''We think this would be really good for golf.''
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A WEEKEND: It's not unusual for sporting events to be in town the same week as the PGA Tour. The Super Bowl was in Arizona last year during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants threw a perfect game the night before the U.S. Open began at Olympic Club in 2013.
The Shell Houston Open is the same week as the Final Four, just as it was in 2011.
''We view it as a positive,'' tournament director Steve Timms said Tuesday. ''It's take a little attention away. But we did the pro-am draw last night and I was driving into town, I noticed two blimps in Houston - one of them for the Final Four, one for the Shell Houston Open.''
He also expects a spike in attendance on the two days there is no basketball, particularly Friday and Sunday.
There is one problem. Golfers would love to get a hold of some Final Four tickets. There are 144 players in the field. Timms doesn't have that many tickets available.
''All we can do when they register is to say, `We're putting you on the list,''' he said. ''The demand outweighs the supply.''
CLARET JUG AND A GREEN JACKET: Zach Johnson did not bring the claret jug to the Dell Match Play in Austin.
In fact, the British Open champion hasn't seen much of it lately.
''To be perfectly honest with you, since just after Christmas, I think I've had it in my possession for like two nights,'' Johnson said. ''So it's being shared with my team, as it should be. Because that's what it's all about, as far as I'm concerned. ... Just sharing it with my friends and family has been an absolute joy.''
That's different from that other major championship ''trophy'' he won.
Then again, the silver claret jug has a functional purpose. It pours claret, or any other liquid. A green jacket from Augusta National is to be worn or hung in a closet. So when Johnson was asked if the green jacket was out of his possession for all but two days after Christmas in 2007, he smiled.
''None of my team are 40 regs,'' said Johnson, who wears a 40 regular jacket.
MATCH PLAY BLOWOUTS: Jason Day's 5-and-4 victory over Louis Oosthuizen in the Dell Match Play was the widest margin for a championship match since it went to 18 holes in 2011. When it was 36 holes, Woods had an 8-and-7 victory over Stewart Cink in 2008, while David Toms was a 6-and-5 winner over Chris DiMarco in 2005.
Woods and Toms were only 4 up through 14 holes of the morning session. Day closed out Oosthuizen on the 14th hole.
DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy has told The Guardian that he will not be playing the Par 3 Tournament at the Masters this year. McIlroy says the one year he didn't play the Par 3 was in 2011, which was his best chance to win. ... Lydia Ko has signed an endorsement deal with Evian as a global sports ambassador. ... This is the final week for eight countries to qualify for the UL International Crown this summer. The four players for each country will be decided after the KPMG Women's PGA Championship on June 12. ... In the last 12 months, Bernhard Langer has finished out of the top 10 only four times in his last 20 starts on the PGA Tour Champions.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Rory McIlroy (No. 3) is the only player from the top six in the world ranking who has not won this year.
FINAL WORD: ''The modern golf season never ends, but it does begin.'' - David Owen, the opening line in his book, ''The Making of the Masters.''