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Tour PAC Shuts Down Match Play Sponsor’s Format Tweak

The vast majority of tournaments on the PGA Tour are stroke play events. There are many reasons for that fact, but certainly one of the most influential is the fact that the volatility of match play can result in lesser-known players advancing while the game’s stars are always 18 holes — give or take — away from elimination.

And in a sport that depends heavily upon star power to carry a network television broadcast into the weekend with the hopes of attracting hardcore and casual fans alike, the more star power, the more eyeballs on the broadcast, which means more money and exposure for the various sponsors of the tournament.

As a result, the format of this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play was tweaked in 2015 from a 64-man, single elimination tournament to 16 4-man pods, which would create a 16-man single-elimination bracket on the weekend.

The change did two things to potentially help the game’s biggest names: it ensured everyone would play at least three matches in the round-robin portion of the pod and it would also give the “better” players more opportunities to let their skill shine through.

Now, four years into the new system, the presenting sponsor, Dell Technologies, wanted to stack the deck a little more by petitioning the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Committee to tweak the format to allow two players to emerge from each pod, creating a 32-man knockout bracket. 

According to the memo sent to players obtained by GolfChannel.com’s Rex Hoggard, the PAC “was not supportive of the proposed format change.”

“What would you call it?” Paul Casey, a member of the 16-player PAC, asked. “There’s really only two formats. If you want to introduce stroke play then you make it as it is in a lot of amateur match-play events and have a stroke-play qualifier and then a match-play knockout. Or go straight knockout, 64 guys. To me, that’s my thought on it and the vast majority of players seem to think that way.”

The proposal and subsequent denial are clues that the Tour and Dell are still looking for a way to change the format, and Casey shared the best idea that he had heard. 

“There’s been suggestions about maybe you just use a rotation of holes,” Casey said. “Maybe you have a stroke-play qualifier and down to 16 or 32 guys and then you use a nine-hole loop. You’d play 18 holes, but those big structures that you only see on a Saturday or a Sunday for 20 minutes and then it’s gone. You’d loop around a couple of times. There’s some outside the box thinking going on, which I quite like.”

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