Funny how the World Series is played even if the Yankees aren't in it, and it always turns out to be a big deal. The Accenture World Match Play Championship finds itself in a similar awkward spot this week with golf's top attractions–cynics might say only attractions–missing in action.
The critics miss the point. With or without Tiger and Phil, this is still the biggest, best and most important match-play event played anywhere in the world. And besides, in the vagaries of match play, how often do Phil and Tiger survive past the third round, anyway? Not as often as you might think, although Woods has won this event.
So the folks in Tucson have a bag of lemons and they have a choice: They can throw the lemons at a passing school bus and shout, "Spartans suck!" Or they can make lemon soup, since making lemonade would be a total cliche. Greg Hansen and the Arizona Daily Star opted for the latter with an interesting headline on an advance story for the event: "Unfamiliar names heighten our curiosity."
That's a possibility. Another would be, "Unfamiliar names dampen any and all interest." (Say, how's that four-man bobsled event going, by the way?)
There's a plus side to missing superstars, though, and that's the opportunity for future stars to build their names and their resumes. Like Dustin Johnson did last week by winning at Pebble Beach for a second straight time. Stars are made, not born. Hansen points this out with an anecdote about Andrew Magee winning the 1994 Northern Telecom Tucson Open and staying away from one guy in his group because he didn't know how to pronounce his name. That guy was Jim Furyk. One of the contenders that Magee beat that week was Steve Stricker, who hadn't cracked the top 175 in two previous seasons on the PGA Tour. Stricker comes to town this week as the No. 1 seed. Furyk is No. 3. From Hansen:
In many ways, pro golf is as much a Futures Tour as anything
else. Last year, at 19, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Japan's
then-17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa were considered novelties. Ishikawa
was here, as an alternate, but he didn't do much more than hit some
range balls. Today, older and wiser, we know better. McIlroy, No. 7 in the
world, and Ishikawa, No. 34, appear destined to become golf's next
So don't be discouraged if you don't recognize all the names on
the massive scoreboards at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. That's just
If the PGA Tour event in your city has more than 40 recognizable
names, you are either in a golf fantasy league or you need to get
off the sofa more on Sunday afternoons.
Hansen digs up some stats to make his lemon soup go down easier, pointing out that the Bob Hope Classic field had no players ranked among the top 30 in the world, the Farmers Insurance Open had only five of the top 30, and the Northern Trust Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am had 11 and nine, respectively. This week's match play has 28 of the top 30, and you already know which two are absent, making this the strongest field of 2010. And luckily, defending champion and Scottsdale resident Geoff Ogilvy will be able to play since his wife gave birth to a boy last Thursday.
The point is, match play golf is the game's most exciting an entertaining format. Some observers wrote how boring the event was the year Magee faced off against Jeff Maggert in the final, because neither player was well known by the public or the media. Yeah, that event was so boring Maggert chipped in to win on the 38th hole. A real snoozer. More from Hansen:
Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship last year and golf didn't implode. Sixteen of the top 18 from that event will be at Dove Mountain this week, including Yang, who beat Tiger in an epic finish. The John Deere Classic it ain't.
Moral of the story: The golf is always exciting in match play, even if the names aren't.