Having no matchplay next year is wrong: Don’t take the magic away

Ronan MacNamara

Scottie Scheffler poses with the Walter Hagen Cup after defeating Kevin Kisner in their finals match to win the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The magic of the FA Cup, FAI Cup, the Leinster Senior Cup, the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play.

What do they all have in common? Knockout.

What can happen over 90 minutes or 18 holes? Anything.


So why get rid of the festival of FA Cup third rounds?

Often the cream rises to the top of leaderboards come late Sunday afternoon but isn’t it nice, on occasion, to see the cream go a bit sour?

This week marks the end of the World Golf Championship Dell Technologies Match Play and as much as it has proved a mouthful to say over the years, we bid it a fond farewell.

The WGC Match Play has thrown up its fair share of stories over the years and some left field winners, which is what has made this tournament a thriller in its 24 years of existence.

Anyone can beat anyone in matchplay. Europe’s dominance of the Ryder Cup since the turn of the millennium is a case in point – although one senses the tide may be turning Stateside in that regard.

Week in, week out, we are fed the same line by the top players remarking on how much strength in depth there is in professional golf, so isn’t match play the greatest stage in which to demonstrate that?

Take the recent winners of the WGC Match Play. Of the last five winners, sandwiched between 2017 winner Dustin Johnson (1) and current champion Scottie Scheffler (5) are three successive winners seeded 35th, 48th and 32nd.

The beauty of match play is that anyone can win.

This event used to be straight knockout, don’t have your best game from tee shot number 1? You’re unlikely to get a second chance.

The bracket format was introduced in 2015 to much criticism but it hasn’t diminished the anomaly of winners. Since 2015, the top seed in each bracket has advanced to the knockout stages 33% of the time while 2021 which was a remarkable year for the tournament, saw one top seed progress to the knockout phase while eight of the players seeded 49-64 advanced.

2021 also saw just two players from the top-29 seeds qualify for the quarter finals with seeds, 30, 31, 32 and 52 making the last four.

In the seven years of the bracket format, a player seeded 61st or lower has qualified for the knockout stages – on five occasions.

Since the bracket format was introduced there has been a good balance between favourites and outsiders winning. Four winners have been top five seeds (Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Scottie Scheffler) with the other three winners seeded 32nd or lower (Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner, Bubba Watson).

Only one player has defended his title – Tiger Woods in 2003-2004.

Such unpredictability can bring about a rather underwhelming finale with some uninspiring semi finals often giving way to some drab deciders, and is there really any need for a consolation match?

The 1999 final saw Jeff Maggert (24) beat Andrew Magee (50) in extra holes while in 2001 Steve Stricker (55) pipped Pierre Fulke (21) before Kevin Sutherland (62) beat Scott McCarron (45) in 2002.

Geoff Ogilvy was a lowly 52nd seed when he beat Davis Love III in 2006, shortly before winning the US Open. That arguably drew back the curtain for a golden era of this event at Dove Mountain Arizona as from 2007 to 2011, every winner was seeded inside the top-10.

Since then, the bracket format has brought back the beauty of unpredictability.

The 2023 and final edition of the Match Play is only a day old and already we have seen some upsets.

US Open champion was humbled by debutant and 61st seed JJ Spaun 5&3 in the opening match while Ben Griffin (62) saw off Tyrrell Hatton 3&1.

Debutant and Ryder Cup hopeful Adrian Meronk (45) pipped Kurt Kitayama while Andrew Putnam (56) beat seventh seed Will Zalatoris 3&2.

Rickie Fowler’s (49) win over 2nd seed Jon Rahm was the standout result of the day while Taylor Montgomery (47), Matt Kuchar (59) and JT Position (43) all caused upsets on day one.

If this were the Thursday of a stroke play event, the majority of the stricken high seeded players would bounce back and be in contention on Sunday afternoon as several of the outsiders faded away.

But match play is different, which is what makes it so exciting and why there should be more of it, not less, or none.

Just one normal day of Dell Technologies, that’s all I ask. Will never happen.

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