One of the more entertaining events of the PGA Tour season is the WGC-Dell Match Play. It has a unique format and offers fans the opportunity to see the world’s best players square off against each other mano a mano.
Unfortunately, this year’s storylines have been hijacked by high-profile withdrawals and meaningless Friday matches between players with no shot at moving on to the round of 16. The Tour made the switch to the new format in 2015, and now three years in, it’s safe to say that it’s not working. Here’s a refresher on the current format:
Jason Day and Gary Woodland's withdrawals have changed the dynamic of the event
The field of 64 is split into 16 four-man pods who play round robin matches Wednesday through Friday. The player with the best record moves on to the round of 16, and the remaining players play single elimination matches on Saturday and Sunday. If there is a tie, a sudden death playoff is held to determine who advances to the round of 16.
The pros and cons of today’s format:
- Every player plays three rounds, allowing fans and viewers to see the PGA Tour’s best for three rounds.
- Drama can build in matchups within pods, and Friday can yield some great showdowns for a spot in the round of 16.
- As we’ve learned last year through Jason Day and Gary Woodland, withdrawals can kill the drama of an individual pod.
- While Friday can yield some thrilling matchups with a spot in the top 16 on the line, it also yields a lot of duds. This year, 22 players in the Friday matches have no chance at advancing, not ideal.
- The different scenarios can be confusing, and it’s difficult for fans to follow the outcomes.
- The format isn’t popular with everyone, causing some of the world’s elite players (like Henrik Stenson) to skip the event
So, if the PGA Tour asked me to fix the system (which they definitely aren’t), here’s what I would propose… I would set up this tournament in a similar fashion to the majority of other match play tournaments, where a stroke play qualifying portion is held prior to moving into match play.
Starting on Wednesday, the 64 players would go into a two-day, 36-hole stroke play qualifying stage with the top 32 players advancing into a single elimination match play bracket.
Early rounds would have the drama of players jockeying for position within the top 32 as well as the potential for a thrilling playoff for the final spots in the match play field. No match or stroke would be meaningless, and if a player needed to withdraw early on, it wouldn’t have a drastic effect on the early rounds. It would also guarantee that the players playing the best golf would advance to the round of 32 and remove the chance of drawing a bad draw in pod play.
The stroke play qualifying to match play format has served great events like the U.S. Amateur and Crump Cup well over the years, so let’s not overthink this. The world’s best players and golf fans deserve better than the current setup. I’ll hang up and listen.