For seven years, the Tucson Conquistadores appealed, implored, petitioned and almost begged to the PGA Tour to modify the Match Play format.
Eliminate first-day eliminations.
Guarantee Phil Mickelson’s presence with two days of stroke-play qualifying.
Stage a round robin. Create a World Cup format. Make it double-elimination. Triple-elimination.
But in the end, nothing changed because CBS, NBC and Golf Channel never got stuck with a Sunday afternoon clunker.
Not once in seven years did millions of viewers flip the channel and freak out to see Pierre Fulke in the finals, as they did in 2001.
We had been spared a Sunday Snoozer, a Kevin Sutherland vs. Scott McCarron 2002 finish, which was the beginning of the end for Match Play in Southern California.
We were overdue to be blue.
This time the networks and commissioner Tim Finchem got burned. At 2 p.m. Sunday in New York City and in Florida’s golf hot spots, CBS introduced a Victor Dubuisson vs. Jason Day finale.
If you closely monitor golf, you grasp Day’s relevance and edge-of-stardom status. But the guy next door doesn’t.
Dubuisson? He proved to be the ultimate ratings wrecker, taking out Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els.
Five or 10 years from now — shoot, maybe five days from now, given Dubuisson’s awakening and Sunday afternoon hocus-pocus — he might be the most famous Frenchman on the planet, soaring past countrymen Jean Claude Killy and Andre the Giant.
But on Sunday, in the greater United States and on Dove Mountain, it didn’t fly.
A few minutes before Day and Dubuisson reached the first tee, before Day would require 23 holes to win his second Tour event, Finchem spoke about a possible change in format.
Maybe now they’ll call it the Victor Rule.
“One of the reasons we’re doing this event is to maintain the history and the thread of match play,” Finchem said. “That’s why we started to do it.”
He tossed around the possibility of a World Cup format, with brackets and multiple rounds.
“Is there another format that, for whatever reason, is significantly more exciting or interesting to fans?” he asked. “Of course, our television partners play into that.”
If CBS’ ratings went bust, if the expected audience never tuned in, or if it tuned out before Dubission’s 11th-hour revival, you can expect changes to a tournament that needs them.
Here is my ratings index on the future of pro golf as it connects to Tucson:
- 90 percent:
- That’s the probability that the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship leaves Tucson. Finchem didn’t blow off a return to Dove Mountain. “Tucson has been a terrifically attractive market and venue. Accenture has loved it,” he said. Terrifically attractive? Wow.
- 1 percent:
- That’s the likelihood Accenture remains as a WGC umbrella sponsor at perhaps $10-15 million a year. At the annual Saturday night Accenture gala, Accenture’s presence was about half of previous tournaments. They’ve got both feet out the door.
- 75 percent:
- Those are heavy odds that Harding Park in San Francisco will be Match Play’s next location. “We like to play Harding Park,” said Finchem. Who doesn’t?
- 85 percent:
- It’s likely Tucson’s next pro golf event will be a Champions Tour tournament, and it will be played at Tucson National. The Champions Tour schedule has two open weeks in both February and March.
- 99 percent:
- Odds that Freddie Couples will attract a larger gallery at Tucson National than Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson drew at The Golf Club of Dove Mountain.
- 60 percent:
- That’s how much of a hit Tucson’s reputation as a PGA Tour destination took in the 2013 snowstorm. That’s misleading and unfortunate, but it lingers. In the 40 days match play was contested on Dove Mountain, 36 of them were superb. Sunburn was the greater issue.
- 100 percent:
- Tucson will not get an unencumbered full-go PGA Tour event for the next 20 years. There is no annual Tour event in many of America’s largest cities
- Seattle, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit
- and Tucson will have great difficulty getting back on the schedule.
- 50 percent:
- Match Play provided Tucson with its greatest golf event in history. In a 2008 first-round match, Tiger Woods pulled off a golf miracle over the final six holes to stun J. B. Holmes. You can still catch some ESPN and Golf Channel footage of Tiger’s fist-pumping from that day. The only other golf event in Tucson history to compare was Arnie’s Army marching at Tucson National in 1967, as Arnold Palmer, in his prime, won the Tucson Open.
- 75 percent:
- A few years from now on a slow Sunday afternoon, you’ll switch on NBC to check the leaderboard of the Tampa Bay Gasparilla Classic. Victor Dubuisson will be tied for the lead.
Unlike Sunday, you will not switch to a “Bewitched” rerun.