Show Of Strength The Andersen was a hit, for those who understand that the play's the thing

March 08, 1999

Believe it or not, the PGA of America got it right 41 years ago
when it changed the format of the PGA Championship from match to
medal play. Match play may be dramatic, but it's no way to
identify a champion. That's why Tiger Woods was both amused and
amazed when someone asked him if last week's Andersen Consulting
Match Play might become a fifth major. "No way," he said
dismissively.

Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: There will
never be a fifth major. Period. End of story. Quit yapping about
it. That said, the Andersen is clearly the Tour's rookie of the
year.

I came to a couple of conclusions last week. One, match play is
superior entertainment. Corey Pavin once told me that, to him, a
match was like 18 individual tournaments, with each tournament
decided by a do-or-die shot. That's why Eduardo Romero--one down
to Greg Norman in his second-round match at La Costa--described
the seven-iron approach he hit to within one foot on the 18th
hole as the best shot of his life. Romero would go on to beat
Norman in extra holes, but the point is, when was the last time
you saw anything that dramatic on a Thursday? If the Andersen
had been a medal event, Romero probably wouldn't have dared fire
at that treacherous pin, and even if he had made a birdie, well,
that would've been a nice finish, nothing more.

Two, stroke play is far superior when it comes to identifying
the best golfer. Anything can happen in an 18-hole match. A Jeff
Maggert can beat a Tiger Woods. A Bill Glasson can beat a David
Duval. A Steve Pate can beat a Davis Love III. In stroke play a
guy like Maggert has to beat a Woods or a Duval over a four-day
stretch, and on Sunday he has to worry about someone dropping a
little 59 on him. In match play the strongest players can be
eliminated in one day, dramatically weakening the field, which
is what happened at La Costa.

Before the Andersen, Duval expressed reservations about the
format, saying, in so many words, that it's bogus in a big
event. It's hard to argue with him. Consider what Woods would
have had to contend with had he made it to the final. He
wouldn't have faced a single player ranked among the top 20. Can
you imagine the Masters or the U.S. Open without Love, Ernie
Els, Jim Furyk, Colin Montgomerie or Mark O'Meara after the
opening round? Yet those so-called upsets are standard procedure
in any match-play event. "We knew some top seeds would lose, but
we didn't expect 90 percent of them to lose," said 12th-ranked
Phil Mickelson, who was ousted in the third round by No. 53,
Romero.

Neither did anyone else, apparently. The gripping excitement of
the first two days' play led to over-the-top pronouncements--the
fifth major business--in some quarters. Then when the final four
turned out to be Maggert, John Huston, Andrew Magee and Steve
Pate, players who many fans and some writers either don't know
or don't appreciate, the Andersen was naively written off as a
dud, a failed fifth. Sure, a Duval-Woods final would've been
something, but the one we wound up with wasn't so bad, was it?

There's something else I don't get. In other sports, when
unheralded teams knock off the big boys, they become sentimental
favorites. How come Cinderella got no respect in the Match Play?

I guess I can understand why ABC and casual fans viewed the
Magee-Maggert final as a worst-case scenario, yet my response
is: tough. Get over it. Match play is about the golf, which is
why the Brits love the format. They want to see the shots.
Americans want to see who's winning. They focus on the play,
while we're wrapped up in the actors.

It took only one playing for the Match Play to become my
favorite tournament. How can you not love an event in which Fred
Couples admits he's "choking like a dog" and good ol' Monty,
America's punching bag, spits and sputters when Craig Stadler
makes him clean up all his three-footers?

I wouldn't have cared if the final match had featured Magee
versus Maggert, Duval versus Woods, or Rowan versus Martin. If
you didn't like the two players in Sunday's final, you probably
don't like golf. You certainly don't understand match play.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK I wouldn't have cared if the final match had featured Magee versus Maggert, Duval versus Woods (above) or Rowan versus Martin.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)