Golf Column: Match Play Championship format just doesn't work

Rory McIlroy coming out on top at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play in San Francisco last week does not mean the new format at Harding Park worked perfectly – far from it.

When the world number one and top seed wins the tournament, it may seem foolish to criticise a format which seemingly allowed the best player to come out on top.

But here are five ways the event could be improved:

1: Get rid of the round-robin format

As stated in a previous column, this is unlikely to happen because tournament promoters and television companies do not want to see the star names knocked out on the opening day, as would have been the case this year for defending champion Jason Day, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell.

But it does not feel like true matchplay if the threat of ’win or go home’ is removed, and the first two days at least were something of a confusing slog, with 32 matches on the course and those with late starting times being delayed so that matches requiring extra holes could tee off on the first.

2: Call a spade a spade

In other words, if players are tied after 18 holes, call it a tie. This would eliminate one of the problems from above and also ties in nicely (pun intended) with the idea of having a points system in the groups, rather than a win-loss record. The Volvo World Match Play awarded two points for a win and one for a half in its group matches last year and, although no system is perfect, it worked better than what was on offer in San Francisco.

3: No tie-breakers

Rickie Fowler and John Senden reached the last 16 with a game to spare thanks to victories on the opening two days against the two players who could possibly match their overall record. Yet everyone else who had won their first two games still had to go out on Friday and win another match to go through. Clear as mud? A total of 22 players were eliminated before Friday’s rounds, leading one of them – Poulter – to write on Twitter: “Well I’m about to play the most pointless round of golf of my life today. Could be a thriller Hahahaha.”

4: Reduce the size of the field

Despite starting a day earlier than regular tournaments and having a limited number of players, the group format meant there were 96 matches on the first three days and somehow still a requirement for two sets of matches on Saturday and Sunday. Keeping fit clearly helped someone like McIlroy cope, but there is little doubt that quality suffers when quantity comes first.

5: Pair Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez every time

The most interesting thing all week was the row between Bradley and Jimenez on the 18th hole of their final group match, even though both men had already been eliminated. If they had come to blows it could even have saved McIlroy from wasting all that money on tickets for Mayweather v Pacquiao.

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