World Match Play Needs More
By Andy Farrell
March 2, 1999
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- One of the marketing slogans for golf's new, globally-oriented World Championships -- of which the Andersen Consulting World Match Play was the first of three -- went like this: "Now destiny has a tee-time."
The only problem was Joe Destiny turned out not to be related to Tiger Woods and instead took a page out of Jumbo Ozaki's book and did not bother to show up at La Costa.
As it turns out, the weekend's all-American final four was not of overwhelming interest to the international audience -- and not that interesting to the home audience either. Here was one newspaper's account of the final: "They were just four guys in caps and the only difference was the logo on the peak of those caps."
It was better when the Andersen Consulting was an unofficial event and they had regional qualifying to determine four semifinalists from all corners of the globe.
If it seemed a simple, natural and elegant idea to take the entry list for the first World Golf Championship directly from the world rankings, it has not helped the international flavour of the tournament.
The four finalists were drawn from a pool of 40 Americans in the starting lineup of 64. In contrast, there were only 11 Europeans and 13 from the rest of the world.
Is that really a true reflection of the world golf scene? Mark James, the European Ryder Cup captain, thinks not.
"Don't forget the world rankings are not representative of the strength of European golf," James said when analysing the European performance at La Costa last week.
Though Europe has won the last two Ryder Cups, it would be wrong to deny that the Americans have more depth. But the world rankings have too great an imbalance, just like the three American majors.
Dean Knuth argued in Golf Digest that the Europeans are under-represented in the rankings. He said using strength of field to determine the number of ranking points available at each tournament is only emphasising that error.
Five years ago, an alteration was made in the calculation of the rankings which tilted the balance in favour of the U.S. It followed complaints from Americans that Europe was over-valued, despite the fact that the likes of Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Jos� Maria Olaz�bal were among the best players in the world.
A minor tinkering took place at the beginning of this season, but the effect may be too small and take too long to be noticed.
Proactive discrimination is required. The exemption list for the World Match Play should include the top-20 on the U.S. and European Tour money lists from the previous year, plus the top three from Asia, Australia, South Africa and Japan.
The balance of the field could then be taken from the world rankings, which would still determine the seedings. America would still be the most represented nation, but the balance would be better.
As long as we're revising the event, why not take it to a truly great golf course. La Costa might have been a cozy venue to start the U.S. season, but a tougher test of golf would have helped the better players prevail against the lower seeds.
Lee Westwood, playing at La Costa for the first time, was less than pleased when he arrived for the first WGC event and took in the surroundings. "To be honest, I'm disappointed," he said. "I thought it could have been set up better. Having fairways that are 40 yards wide is hardly ideal for such a prestigious event. It's like a driving range."
Nothing elevates an event quicker than playing it on a major-championship-style golf course. Perhaps the time of year does not help. Some of the more traditional sites might not be playable until the summer. Fitting it into the calendar might be a problem, as only early May looks wide open.
A later date might help players like Colin Montgomerie and Westwood, who have only just started their seasons. Alternatively, if the date stays the same -- as it is scheduled to -- then they will have to think about starting earlier if they are serious about contending for this crown.
A week ago, everyone was looking forward to the World Match Play. It is still a fine addition to the circuit. If there were too few heavyweight contests -- except Faldo vs. Woods and Stadler vs. Monty -- then maybe some of the so-called stars, with the exception of Woods, didn't knuckle-down and get the job done.
From a European Ryder Cup perspective, James was not too concerned. "Obviously I would have liked to have seen more European winners, but I don't think it's all doom and gloom at the moment," James said.
"It's very early season for the Europeans, and sometimes this sort of thing happens. It can be down to the luck of the draw, or just the fact your opponent is very hot on the day. Most of the young guys coming through weren't in the field, but those who were, Thomas Bj�rn and Patrik Sj�land, both did very well.
"A lot can happen between now and September, and it's far too early to say what the shape of the team will be or predict how many of the players there now will still be high up by the time the Cup comes around.
"If you take a look at their Ryder Cup list, about six of their (American) guys lost in the first round, and I am sure they are not wailing about it.
The biggest mover on the Ryder Cup qualifying list was Olaz�bal, who jumped from 34th to 14th by reaching the quarterfinals, while Sjoland skipped from 11th to ninth. Faldo only moved from 36th to 32nd with his first-round exit at the hands of Woods.
Finally, a thought on the Cisco World Match Play Championship played at Wentworth each autumn. It's stock, far from being devalued by another event with a similar name, has actually risen.
Playing matches over 36 holes and only having a starting field of 12 makes much more sense now. The only problem, as usual, though, is making sure those are 12 of the best golfers in the world and not 12 available clients of the event's promoters -- International Management Group.
The tournament may suffer this year from the fact that the American Express World Championship at Valderrama is only three weeks after Wentworth and American players may blanch at two transatlantic trips with the Tour Championship sandwiched in between.
Money may help -- the prize should match the $1 million offered at La Costa and Valderrama -- but what else might help is a published list of qualification rules, as opposed to the private guidelines the organisers use.
Here would be my list:
1. Defending champion
2. Winners of the four major championships
3. Winner of the Andersen Consulting World Match Play (it would be churlish not to recognise its sister event)
4. World No. 1
5. Leading American, European and International player on the current world money list not otherwise exempt
6. Any duplications made up from those not otherwise exempt on the world rankings
7. Two wild cards: Either a former winner, a major champion, in the top 20 in the world rankings or current Ryder or Presidents Cup player.