The dawn of an era can be seen clearly only in hindsight, which
is something the organizers of last week's Andersen Consulting
Match Play will need to keep telling themselves in the months
ahead. The first of the three new $5 million World Championships
was promoted as the brave new world of golf but delivered the
same old one. Yet once we absorbed the notion that hype
shouldn't be mistaken for history, Jeff Maggert's chip-in to
beat Andrew Magee on the 38th hole of the final really did seem
like a special occasion.
Yes, an event designed to create showdowns between the game's
most charismatic golfers was won by a low-profile worker bee, a
player whose most identifiable trait had been an inability to
close out tournaments. True, the seldom-used format again
produced--just as it had in the years before the PGA
Championship abandoned it in 1958--a relatively obscure, albeit
engaging, final foursome. There is also no denying that
somnambulant La Costa Resort and Spa, in Carlsbad, Calif., added
nothing in the way of atmosphere.
On the other hand, watching the battle-scarred Maggert (he had
only one victory but 12 second-place finishes) finally get out
of his own way was a kick, as was last Wednesday's first round
of 32 18-hole matches. Has anyone seen more action in the
opening round of a tournament? By week's end it seemed clear
that the framework for the World Championships--souped-up
fields, gobs of prize money and wall-to-wall TV coverage--was
strong enough to hold up against some heavy turbulence. "It was
a classic way to end," said the victimized but still affable
Magee. "I even enjoyed it a little bit, being the weirdo that I
Opinion was divided over whether the Match Play was an artistic
success. One camp, those who believed that the tournament had to
deliver star power to make an impact, thought the Andersen was a
flop. Those who appreciate the nuances of the game--particularly
when it's contested at match play--felt that, on the whole, the
week went well.
March 8, 1999
One of the latter is Jack Graham, the producer of the 20 hours
of live television coverage on ESPN and ABC. Having worked
several U.S. Amateurs, Graham is a fan of match play but knows
the format can turn on TV like a viper. He was aware that the
expectations were unlikely to be met. Because the format called
for a field of 64, seeded according to the World Ranking,
comparisons with the NCAA basketball tournament were inevitable.
That meant that casual viewers believed there was a better than
average chance that Tiger Woods and David Duval--the No. 1 and
No. 2 seeds, respectively--would mow down their halves of the
draw and meet in the final.
The players, though, know that seedings are meaningless when
matches are limited to 18 holes. "It's good for me," said Steve
Pate, the 61st seed. "I figure I've got a better chance of
beating these guys one day at a time than over four."
So it was with almost comical dispatch that the game's big names
fell like toy soldiers. In the first round alone, Ernie Els (No.
7) went down to Paul Azinger (58), Colin Montgomerie (6) was
smoked by Craig Stadler (59), Lee Westwood (5) was whipped by
Eduardo Romero (60), Mark O'Meara (3) was hammered by Michael
Bradley (62), and Davis Love III (4) got skinned by Pate. By the
end of the week this stat had become the event's epitaph: Ten
players ranked between 50th and 64th had beaten 10 players
ranked first to 15th.
Early in the week the upsets made for great TV. On Wednesday,
Graham, in a control room with 67 screens, monitored all 32
matches. His goal was to show at least one significant shot from
each match, and the task of cutting from match to match turned
into an event in itself. "Man, my head's spinning, and we've
only been on for 15 minutes," he said.
The hits kept coming on Thursday, when Duval was beaten by Bill
Glasson, who had never before played in a match play tournament.
Also falling were Vijay Singh (8), Nick Price (9), Greg Norman
(28)--he blew a 3-up lead with four holes to play against
Romero--and Justin Leonard (10). On Friday morning Romero ousted
Phil Mickelson (12) while Pate defeated Fred Couples (13), who
before the match predicted, "This stuff makes me so nervous,
I'll be choking like a dog."
By Friday afternoon's fourth round, the only player left from
among the top 20 was Woods, who had beaten Nick Faldo, Bob Tway
and Stewart Cink. When Woods jumped to a 2-up lead after three
holes against Maggert, Graham was cheering him on. "I root for
the best show," Graham said. "Obviously we'd love to have Tiger
for the weekend."
No one gave Maggert much of a chance in the match, not even his
10-year-old son, Matt. "Oh, no, you can't beat Tiger Woods,
Dad," he had said after the third round.
Woods, though, knew better. "Anybody can beat anybody," he said.
"That's the problem with match play. Then again, that's the
beauty of it."
Beginning at the 8th, Maggert birdied five of the next eight
holes. When Woods missed an 18-footer on the 17th, it was over.
"Tiger was the dragon, and somebody had to slay him," said
In the ABC production truck, Graham put his head in his hands.
Not only was Woods lost for the weekend, but so were the two
international players on the other side of the bracket who could
have provided a glamour pairing, Ryder Cup warrior Jose Maria
Olazabal and Japan's Shigeki Maruyama, the undefeated hero of
December's Presidents Cup. Instead the final four were Maggert,
Magee, Pate and John Huston--four white-bread Americans between
the ages of 35 and 37. None of them had more than six career
victories, and none were ranked higher than 24th. Graham dreaded
a Sunday telecast that would look like the Tour's version of The
Stepford Wives. "I was bummed," he said.
The air seemed to have been let out of the event on Saturday.
Both semifinals were flat, the golf was shaky and unmemorable.
The crowds were thin, and the jumbotrons echoed over the
lifeless grounds. The overnight ratings had steadily climbed
during the first three telecasts, on ESPN, from 1.34 on
Wednesday to 1.50 on Thursday and then 1.97 on Friday--solid
numbers for cable. But when the Match Play switched over to ABC
on Saturday, it could muster only a so-so 3.0 Nielsen rating.
To a degree, what match play had taken away, it gave back on
Sunday. ABC was expecting the worst. Director Jim Jennett
couldn't resist some gallows humor early in the telecast. When
the commissioners of the five major pro tours that sanctioned
the event were introduced on the 1st tee, Jennett muttered, "The
crowd is small enough to introduce everybody." But as the final
wore on, the show picked up, and when Magee and Maggert went to
extra holes, the tournament, and the telecast, was deemed a
success, at least by those who beamed it to the world. "Today
saved the week," said Graham. The public's response was
lukewarm. Yes, Sunday's Nielsen (3.8) was an improvement over
Saturday's, but that's usually the case. More to the point, of
the last three Sunday telecasts of Tour events, the Match Play
was the lowest rated. (The Buick Invitational and the Nissan
Open, both on CBS, had drawn a 6.3 and a 5.3, respectively.)
That was irrelevant to Maggert. The win was an emotional one for
many reasons. Last summer he divorced his wife of 12 years,
Kelli, and no longer lives with Matt and Macy, his
eight-year-old daughter. Maggert's voice quivered when he looked
into an ABC camera and sent his kids his love after he had won.
"My son has been giving me a hard time about finishing second,"
Maggert would say later, "and it's not, 'Oh, Dad, I'm sorry you
finished second.' It's, 'Dad, how come you can't win?'"
Maggert says he'll be more comfortable with himself in the
future, no matter where he finishes. "The biggest thing is, I
can be myself now," he says. "I can finish second and it's O.K."
In many respects the Match Play will be O.K., too, even without
star power on the weekend. The tournament already has some
assets. It's front-loaded like no stroke-play event, and despite
what you saw last week, the chances are strong there will be at
least one heavyweight showdown somewhere in the draw. When that
happens in the final, golf will have the instant classic
everyone was hoping for last year.
Until then, we'll have Maggert's million-dollar chip to remember
the first World Championship by, and that's all that a new
tournament can expect to be given--a shot.
ABC's Graham dreaded a Sunday telecast that would look like the
Tour's version of The Stepford Wives. "I was bummed," he said.