Goodbye match play, pros and cons in format

The player ahead by one hole is 1 up: the winner is whoever has a higher advantage over the holes still to be played (a 3up on hole 17). Strategically important is the starting order

by Andrea Gussoni
Goodbye match play, pros and cons in format

The curtain fell on Sunday in Austin on the only race on the PGA Tour played with the match play formula. It is a simple and direct formula that has never guaranteed adequate media interest. Gone to the attic World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies 2023 of great match play we will see every two years, once in Europe and once in the United States.

Match play, history

Whoever pockets the ball with the fewest strokes wins the hole. Whoever wins the most holes wins the competition. This is the spirit of match play. For many it is the true formula of golf: you don't play against the course but against an opponent in the flesh.

The handicap counts up to a certain point. You can hit even ten shots to close a par 3 but the important thing is to play one less than your opponent. Match play can be played one-on-one, two-on-two or in teams. Whoever wins the hole takes one point, whoever loses zero and in case of a tie, half a point each (in English A/S, or all square).

Unlike other formulas, in match play the player can concede the hole to the opponent (i.e. give it to him without necessarily making him hole the last shot). The breach does not result in a penalty stroke or two but in loss of the hole.

The player ahead by one hole is 1 up: the winner is whoever has a higher advantage over the holes still to be played (a 3up on hole 17). Strategically important is the starting order. Up until now, there were two competitions with the match play formula in professionalism: the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies and the Ryder Cup.

Now only Ryder's three days remain with this system, two days of challenges in pairs and one in singles. Players liked the idea of breaking the routine of stroke play on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour even if the recent formula (qualifying rounds plus knockout) penalized them quite a bit.

The spectator and, above all, those who own the TV rights are less inclined to match play. On Sunday, the subscriber wants to watch the final lap of any race for hours, looking at at least fifteen potential winners. Each with his own style and strategy.

Instead, on Sunday March 26 in Austin, the spectator saw only Burns, Scheffler, Young and McIlroy for the entire day. Four matches, four protagonists and a few slots for advertising insertions. The one that retired 48 hours ago is a race born 24 years ago and always continued between ups and downs.

Since 1999, only three world number ones have reached the grand final: McIlroy (2015), D. Johnson (2017) and Tiger Woods (2000, 2003, 2004 and 2008). The first year, the then number 25 in the ranking Jeff Maggert over the number 51, Andrew Magee, won on the second hole of the playoffs.

The US specialized press also recalls not exactly edifying moments such as the Garcia-Kuchar (2019) and Bradley-Jimenez (2015) quarrels. It was played in California, Arizona and then again in California and finally in Texas.

From 1999 to 2014, match play followed the tennis scoreboard: direct elimination, whoever wins passes the round. From 2015, to guarantee more matches and more hours of TV, three-player groups were introduced with the winner of each round robin qualified for the knockout stage.

Just the round robin has never taken hold of the professionals. The World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play went to Sam Burns. The American certainly finished with a bang by beating Scottie Scheffler in the semifinal after three playoff holes to then have an easy time with Cameron Young (6&5, i.e.

the match ended after 13 holes). Small consolation was the third place of Rory McIlroy, who defeated (2&1) Scheffler in the final. Sam Burns, 26, from Shreveport (Louisiana) takes home 3.5 million dollars and moves from 15th to tenth position in the world rankings.

For the American it is the fifth title on the PGA Tour in 121 appearances, the first in a WGC event. It was since 2006 (with the Australian Geoff Ogilvy) that a player failed to win the WGC-Dell debut.