This week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which annually brings together the 64 best golfers on the planet for head-to-head competition, is my favorite non-major tournament. There are a few other match-play events out there, including the wonderful Volvo World Match Play Championship, but the Accenture is the best one. The PGA Championship should change its format to mirror it.
The biggest challenge facing the PGA Championship right now -- aside from a date on the calendar that forces it to compete with the Olympics every four years -- is a lack of identity.
The Masters has the aura of Bobby Jones, the mystique of Augusta National and the distinction of being the first major every year. The U.S. Open is our national championship and revels in its reputation as the toughest tournament in the world. The Open Championship is the oldest major and is played on unique links courses that often have the word "Royal" in their names (which is cool). It’s regularly contested at the home of golf, the Old Course at St. Andrews.
The PGA Championship is ... glory's last shot? That's a Jim Nantz catch phrase, not something a major can hang its hat on.
More than any other major, the PGA Championship resembles a regular PGA Tour event. It has a stronger field and the courses are usually stouter, but honestly, the PGA Championship doesn't feel big enough, grand enough.
Reverting to match play, the tournament's format from 1916 until 1957, would change all that. From the first shot of the first match, as Rickie Fowler would say, it would be #GoTime. There would be a sense of urgency, a sense that something big could happen, even in the first few hours of the tournament. No other major could match it.
The biggest argument against switching to match play is that television ratings would drop if the big names lost early. Allow me to dispatch that argument with two facts.
1. No-name players almost never make it the semifinals or finals of big-time match play events. The WGC-Accenture Match Play has produced plenty of of high-quality, big-name semifinalists. There are certainly no chumps in this group of Match Play final fours (*Winners):
2011 – Luke Donald*, Martin Kaymer, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson
2010 – Ian Poulter*, Paul Casey, Camilo Villegas, Sergio Garcia
2009 – Geoff Ogilvy*, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Ross Fisher
2008 – Tiger Woods*, Stewart Cink, Henrik Stenson, Justin Leonard
Some lesser-known players have made deep runs at the Match Play, but not many, and a Cinderella story can be a lot of fun. Wasn't it compelling to watch Butler reach the final against mighty Duke in the 2010 Final Four?
2. The television ratings for the PGA Championship are already too low. The final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which featured Tiger Woods paired with Phil Mickelson, got a 5.1 rating. That's a big number. In fact, as the chart below shows, that's as big, or bigger, than three of the last five final-round ratings for the PGA Championship.
|Year||Winner||Venue||Final Round Rating|
|2011||Keegan Bradley||Atlanta Athletic Club||4.1|
|2010||Martin Kaymer||Whistling Straits||4.3|
|2009||Y.E. Yang||Hazeltine National||7.15|
|2008||Padraig Harrington||Oakland Hills||3.0|
|2007||Tiger Woods||Southern Hills||6.8|