Although Changed, Match Play Championship Has Its Moments

Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters. Picture Supplied by Action Images.

AUSTIN, Tex. – It was a pretty Wednesday at Austin Country Club, though a little breezy even by Texas standards. Otherwise, the sun was out, the grass was green and Jordan Spieth was in town.

All in all, very nice.


But it could have been better.

The first day of what is now the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship used to be one of the absolute best days on the professional golf calendar. Sixty-four players, 32 matches, 32 guys advance, the other 32 go home.

The second day had 16 matches, same format, same consequences.

Straight up match play. Survive and advance.

It’s different now, though, with Wednesday being the first of three days of round-robin match play in a four-player pod. It’s possible to lose on Wednesday and still win the whole thing.

It’s not bad. It’s just not as good as the old way.

It’s the reality of modern professional golf. Television and sponsors and fans don’t love the idea that Rory McIlroy could be out of the tournament before the kids get home from school on Wednesday afternoon.

So we have the two-year old Match Play model.

And it had its moments Wednesday.

Jason Day, fresh off a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, pulled up lame after finishing off Graeme McDowell 3 and 2.

Day went down with a sudden back problem that throws into doubt his availability for his next two matches, not to mention it comes at a particularly awkward time with the Masters two weeks away.

His agent, Bud Martin, released a statement late Wednesday saying Day had work done on his back and “is getting prepared to play (Thursday).”

Spieth won easily and then professed his love for Austin, “maybe my favorite city in the world,” he said.

Rory McIlroy rallied to beat Thorbjorn Olesen 1-up because Olesen, who never trailed until the last hole, shanked his third shot, a delicate pitch from behind the green that went skittering right like someone kicked it, costing him the match.

And then there was Adam Scott, who hasn’t won a single match in this event since 2010. He was one and done in 2011, 12, 13 and 14 then went 0-for-3 last year.

Scott had Thomas Pieters 2-down with three to play and, well, at least Scott didn’t lose. He wound up with a halve against Pieters and sounded like a man who feels the same way about Austin Country Club’s bedeviling greens as he did about Dove Mountain’s crazy surfaces.

“I was in command of the match and to let him off so easily was a big error on my part,” Scott said.

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