The WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play: An event that always underwhelms someone, even Tiger Woods

It is elite golf’s only individual match play tournament but every year someone is left feeling disenchanted.

Formats other than 72-hole stroke play have a fractious relationship with golf fans and observers.

That demographic is forever demanding something different and yet, soon after anything out of the ordinary is dished up, they quickly complain how rubbish it is.

It's as if every Christmas the entire family sits around the dining table and gripes about always having turkey so mum decides to surprise them. But when she reveals a goose they all pull a face and grumble that she should have cooked a turkey after all.

This dysfunctional business has never been more apparent than in the history of the World Golf Championship's Match Play, an event that has succeeded only in its capacity to comprehensively underwhelm at least someone every single year.

Let's remind ourselves of the various elements of this sad tale of sporting dissatisfaction.

The early winners

Match play had fallen massively out of favour with those who ran tour golf by the late 1990s. With the exception of the invitational tournament held at Wentworth every autumn it was more or less non-existent.

In an ideal world, the first four editions of the WGC event should have reversed the situation. Instead, they ensured it would remain an annual one-off.

The 2000 edition was fine. Tiger Woods reached the final, where he was beaten by Darren Clarke after the pair had dispatched David Duval and Davis Love III in the semi-finals.

But the other three were all but cataclysmic in terms of creating a final day thriller for TV, sponsors and eyeballs. In 1999 Jeff Maggert beat Andre Magee, in 2001 Steve Stricker toppled Pierre Fulke, and a year later Kevin Sutherland bettered Scott McCarron.

"Not exactly what the networks and advertisers had in mind," wrote the New York Times.

The venue

In 2001 the tournament ventured down under, to the Metropolitan GC in Melbourne. The problem was that the best players in the field didn't follow suit.

All four of the previous year's semi-finalists were unimpressed by the prospect of a long flight for (potentially) less than one round of golf. So were Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul Azinger, Greg 'Grow the Game' Norman, Nick Price, Fred Couples and former winner Jeff Maggert.

"If it was a stroke-play event, I'd probably go," Woods said. "The fact that you can go all the way down there and play one round and you're out, that's not really inviting."

An event designed for the world's top 64 players was won by World No. 102 Sutherland.

Tiger

Woods was always a bit suspicious of match play, picking at it like a toddler offered something uninviting to eat.

The tournament did reveal his highly unlikely Achilles heel (Aussies with Irish heritage - he was knocked out by Peter O'Malley and twice by Nick O'Hern), but the event in Melbourne revealed his true thoughts of the format.

He would eventually win it three times, but he was always a reluctant participant in a format he felt neutered the best players.

The venues again

Between 2007 and 2014 the event headed to the desert of Arizona. This time it wasn't the field that was hesitant to follow, but the fans.

Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel wrote: "The galleries have been thin, the golf courses have been tolerated and the Sundays have been largely undistinguished."

The two-time champion

An event knows it's in a pickle when even a bloke who won it twice in four years (and was a runner-up in-between) is a bit dubious.

Aussie Geoff Ogily, champion in 2006 and 2009, said: "It's a weird tournament. I obviously enjoy coming because it's been good to me three out of the last four years.

"But it's still, there's an element that's slightly out of your control. Seventy-two holes is a big picture to paint."

Ryder Cup captains

Faced with the trying to out-duel the Europeans in match play, it turned out that US Ryder Cup captains were also unconvinced, this time by the tournament's ability to unearth experts in the format.

In 2018 Kevin Kisner impressed everyone watching with his hard-nosed progress to the final. Everyone except Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk who ignored suggestions that poker-faced Kisner might be as neat a fit for Le Golf National as he was for match play.

Team USA got thumped in Paris and Kisner went one better in 2019, winning in Austin.

"I don't know, man. They don't like me I, guess," Kisner said on the Subpar podcast.

In 2021 Billy Horschel emerged victorious in Austin and also had high hopes of making the Ryder Cup team. Once again, it didn't happen.

The format

The belly-aching of players, TV execs and sponsors permitted golfing purists no end of joy. For them, the perilous nature of match play was no flaw but instead the defining feature head-to-head golf. It's unique attraction, in fact.

So, not content with having a minority of the golf world happy with the tournament, in 2015 the organisers scrapped the straight knockout system and introduced first round groups.

The purists were appalled.

Now absolutely everyone was underwhelmed.

READ MORE: The Valspar Championship: Sam Burns defends after holing monster putt in playoff

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