After dispatching defending champion Geoff Ogilvy in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Sunday, Henrik Stenson was asked about his 2001 mega-slump, which almost drove him out of the game and which NBC alluded to repeatedly in a telecast that rivaled a weather delay for pure excitement.
"I probably only heard [the question] a thousand times," Stenson said, trying to move on.
But the journos on hand weren't having any of that. They'd just sat through a 10-hour display of less than stellar golf between two guys not named Tiger or Phil, so the least Stenson could do was help them write the story.
A member of the press plowed ahead with the line of questioning:
"Did you just lose your swing?"
"Yeah, sort of lost the swing and then obviously lost the confidence," Stenson said, for the thousandth time, "and one thing leads to another. The first couple of provisional golf balls don't bother you that much, but after a while you start—(Stenson laughed)—when your caddie is rattling in the pocket to see if he's got a provisional when you're standing over the drive, you know you've got some sort of a problem." (More laughter.)
So the Fourth Estate had its money quote, the quote that might make Stenson, a lanky Swede who plays behind mirrored sunglasses, relatable, but to paraphrase the Accenture champ, when that's the day's highlight, you've got a problem. Sunday's action, which also included Trevor Immelman's consolation match victory over Chad Campbell, was so bereft of drama that it fell to Jimmy Roberts to liven things up with a segment on Tiger Woods, who had lost in the third round on Friday. Apparently he'd still lost.
Like the NCAA basketball tournament, or Eddie Murphy in a fat suit, the Accenture is grotesquely front-loaded, just as it's been since its inception in 1999. If anything interesting happens, it usually happens in the first three rounds, Wednesday through Friday, when 56 matches are played and most marquee names fall off the board.
In '99, Jeff Maggert beat Andrew Magee in 38 holes, a classic duel between two guys nobody cared about. Darren Clarke resuscitated the young tournament in 2000 with a cigar-fueled, 4&3 victory over Tiger, but Steve Stricker over Pierre Fulke in 2001, and Kevin Sutherland over Scott McCarron in 2002 didn't move the needle on Sunday.
Woods won back-to-back titles in 2003 and '04, and while dominating in 2005 David Toms played arguably the best golf anyone not named Tiger has played in 10 years.
Here's what ought to be done to liven things up: Invite the women.
The Accenture is golf's version of a major tennis tournament: single-elimination, with most everything resting on the quality of the semifinal and final. One of the things tennis has going for it is that men and women play concurrently at the same venue. Right away you double your chances of having at least one star in a final, and of getting at least one compelling match in the prime viewing hours Saturday and Sunday.
The LPGA, in fact, bettered the PGA Tour with its most recent match play event, the season-ending ADT Championship, won by Paraguayan pixie Julieta Granada, who pocketed $1 million, the largest purse in women's golf, and promptly bought herself a new Range Rover. (A million bucks still means something on the LPGA.)
Yes, two brackets would certainly add excitement. But three would be better. To eliminate the one-and-done downside of the match play format that so irritates travel-weary players, the powers that be could add a third bracket to the ADT/Accenture, the consolation bracket, contestants for which would be made up of the 64 men and women who are ousted from the LPGA and PGA brackets in Wednesday's opening round.
That's right: 32 women, 32 men. Same bracket. Coed. That ought to scratch the itch of those who insist players like Michelle Wie have a right to gender-blend from the back tees. Unlike say, the Sony Open, an LPGA pro really can prevail in match play, for at least a day or three. (Each first-round match would be between a man and a woman.)
Wie has never made a cut at the Sony, but she's scored better than several players who also missed the cut in Hawaii, beating some major winners more than once. Imagine Els squaring off against his swing double Wie, or Adam Scott vs. Natalie Gulbis, or Vijay teeing it up against Annika. Now that would be something worth watching. If an LPGA player made it all the way to the finals of the consolation bracket, ratings would soar.
(Logistically it would be no problem, since the Gallery at Dove Mountain features a North and South course, and each track would host no more than 32 matches a day.)
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has made a big deal out of the inclusiveness of his World Golf Championship events, which are recognized by "golf's five world governing bodies—the European Tour, Japan Golf Tour Organization, PGA Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Sunshine Tour." That's great, but with so much to gain, for just one week a year, what's one more tour?