PGA Tour

9 and 8, and Other Stories: the History of the WGC Match Play

This week, golf fans get a much-needed break from the monotony of 72-hole stroke play events, as the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship tees off at Austin Country Club (shouts to Woody). After last weekend’s basketball smorgasbord, the tournament’s Wednesday-Sunday run gives sports fans a small light near the end of the tunnel (and sports gamblers an extra day to climb out of/fall deeper into the hole).

Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, the PGA Tour has really gone bracket-crazy in the past few years, unveiling a seeding show similar to college basketball’s Selection Sunday and creating an interactive bracket challenge. This is all well and good, but it could be better – check out this half-baked idea from the NLU archives for a must-see Match Play selection special.

In any case, the Match Play gives us a chance to watch high-level, high-pressure, 1v1 golf, which lends itself to some extremely memorable moments (which will be discussed below).

Tournament Roots

The Match Play as we know it started in 1999, becoming one of the first three World Golf Championship events. It succeeded an interesting 32-player event called the Andersen Consulting World Championship of Golf, which was something akin to European soccer’s Champions League. Check this long-range “tournament” format out:

The top eight players available from four different regions, the United States, Europe, Japan, and the “Rest of the World”, were selected from the Sony Rankings. Each region played three rounds of match play to determine the regional winner to send to the finals. The regional tournaments were played at various times (February to August) throughout the year at different courses in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

The semi-finals and finals were played either in December or January, meaning that this event essentially lasted 11 months, which is longer than many Tour players stick with a first wife.

From 1999-2014, the tournament’s format mirrored that of March Madness: a 64-player single-elimination event. In 2015, they changed it to be more World Cup-like: 16 four-player groups play round robin, and the winner of each group advances to the knockout stages. Personally, I like the inherent randomness in a single-elimination tournament, where Cinderellas can go on deep runs. And with the Match Play now overlapping the college hoops, the potential for cross-promotional #content has never been higher.

The tournament has hopped around to a few different tracks in Arizona and California before landing in Austin. Starting at La Costa in Carlsbad, the event made a brief pilgrimage Down Under in 2001 before returning to Cali until 2007. Then it switched to the Gallery, then Dove Mountain (both in Marana, AZ), took up residence at TPC Harding Park in San Fran for a year in 2015, and has now found a secure home in the capital of the Lone Star state.

Past Winners

Tiger hasn’t feasted on the Match Play as much as he has on other WGC events, with only three wins (compared to 7 at Cadillac and 8 at Bridgestone). The fragile Jason Day has won two of the past three Match Play events, though he seems to have amnesia about the 2014 result. Overall, it’s a solid list of winners, with Geoff Ogilvy (2), Rory, Kuchar, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, and Darren Clarke having taken home a trophy over the past two decades.

Notable Finishes

2016

Jason Day eviscerated Louis Oosthuizen 5&4 in the final, but one of the most memorable occurrences came during pool play, when Daniel Berger ganked up his wrist after clipping a rock wall on his downswing.

This came on the 18th hole of his match with Phil Mickelson, and forced Berger to concede the match (they were all square at the time). Weird scenes.

2013

Matt Kuchar beat Hunter Mahan 2&1, but all anyone remembers is the snow.

 

2012

Hunter Mahan somehow did this…

…and then summoned the mental and emotional fortitude to get that ball up and down and go on to win the damn tournament, beating none other than Rory McIlroy. Interestingly, Mahan made the US Ryder Cup team in 2008, 2010, and 2014, and was left off the team in 2012 despite him being the first player outside the automatic qualifier spots. Seems like we could have used some of those cojones during the Miracle at Medinah, but I digress.

2009

Geoff Ogilvy picked up his second Match Play victory, defeating Paul Casey 4&3 after Casey had steamrolled his way to the final. This upped Ogilvy’s career match play record to an unbelievable 17-2.

2008

Tiger Woods obliterated Stewart Cink, 8&7, for his third Match Play title. Considering what happened the previous year, it’s obvious the Big Cat was out for blood.

2007

Nick O’Hern was not a nobody in 2007. Within the previous three years, he had Top 20s in 3 majors (including a T6 at the 2006 U.S. Open) and a T31 in the 2004 PGA Championship. He was a four seed in Tiger’s region, the equivalent to Butler coming up against UNC this Friday. Still though, O’Hern’s victory over Tiger (with the aid of a missed four-foot putt from Woods) was a momentous upset, particularly as it was his second such pelt in three years.

USA Today has a good breakdown, which includes a detailed recounting of Tiger spraying some #Sauce by blaming a ball mark in his line. O’Hern’s victory ended Tiger’s quest to reach Byron Nelson’s record-long PGA Tour winning streak. Nelson’s streak stands at 11, and Woods was vying for his 8th straight Tour title (not counting Euro Tour events) when he lost to O’Hern.

2006

No one remembers that Tiger lost to Chad Campbell in the Sweet 16, because this happened in the first round.

Also, Ogilvy won his first Match Play as the 52nd overall seed, defeating the 23rd seed Davis Love III. Not exactly George Mason-Vermont in the Final Four, but still.

2002

Even better, Kevin Sutherland (62nd seed) took down Scott McCarron (45th seed) in what was surely the least-watched finale since that NBC show The Event, which I definitely did not watch every episode of.

Odds and Ends

  • Follow Andy at the Fried Egg on Instagram and Twitter as he attends the tournament this week – some great Austin CC photos
  • Groups for the tournament are here. Some observations:
    • The “four major champions” group includes Webb Simpson, which is an A+ troll job.
    • Woodland gets a chance for revenge on McIlroy after losing in the final of the 2015 tournament.
    • When Matsuyama plays Oosthuizen I will be taking an extended lunch break.
    • Spieth and Moore are two of the more accomplished amateur match play golfers, so that match should be interesting.
    • Whoever wins the Rahm-Sergio match can rightly claim the title of The Spaniard.
    • Berger will have an opportunity to avenge the wrist injury W/D from last year against Phil.
    • RIP Tron if Group 16 ever makes it to TV coverage. Kuchar, Fleetwood, ZJ, Brendan Steele. Yeesh.

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  • Alberto Flantastico III

    Do they get money for their finishes in the group? What is the motivation once you know you can’t finish 1st? Also Bill Haas for #LPCP

  • PurdueMatt

    “fragile Jason Day”

    /prophetic

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