Tucson facing long odds in quest to keep Match Play

2014-02-20T00:00:00Z 2014-02-20T10:51:18Z Tucson facing long odds in quest to keep Match PlayGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

On what was likely the last best day of golf in Tucson history, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem spent 90 minutes at the No. 1 tee Wednesday. The old gang was all there.

Dove Mountain developer David Mehl walked inside the ropes. Russ Perlich, who was the Tucson Conquistadores’ primary Tour negotiator, stood nearby. Judy McDermott, heart and soul of the Conquistadores, was up front as always.

A few things have shifted, though.

Peter Evans, who for years was part of the “Team Tiger” on-course patrol, now walks with Rory McIlroy.

Wednesday’s summit at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships was ironic in the sense that the 2014 Conquistadores president is Neil Weitman.

His father, Paul Weitman, served in the same capacity during the event’s first incarnation, the Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championship, 30 years ago.

Tucson survived the Weitman-to-Weitman years nicely.

The lone absentee from Wednesday’s group of Big Shots was Accenture front man Gary Beckner, who until this year has been as visible as the cacti at the Golf Club of Dove Mountain.

Finchem is scheduled to hold a Q&A session on Sunday. Maybe he’ll fill in the blanks, though the Conquistadores profess they don’t know what he’ll say — or what has been decided — about the future of Match Play.

Here’s what he’s not going to say: “We’ve been here eight years, and we plan on at least eight more.”

This is Accenture’s 21st year as a PGA Tour partner, a period in which it has probably spent $200 million on golf.

If it’s getting out of the golf business — hey, thanks for the memories.

You can only send your VPs and VIPs to L’il Abner’s Steakhouse for a big dinner a few times before they get itchy for a week in San Francisco or somewhere that isn’t dusty.

But the odds of this singular golf format keeping the customers/players/sponsors satisfied here or anywhere are overwhelmingly steep.

First-day eliminations are brutal. How about a round robin for a few days?

How about more action on Sunday?

Finchem is a smart man. Wherever this tournament goes, it is sure to be reprogrammed to avoid a Wednesday high and a weekend yawn. Tucson has been a good test of how-to’s and how-not-to’s.

After ex-Arizona Wildcat Jim Furyk survived and advanced on Wednesday, he spoke not about the format but about the tournament’s possible destinations.

“I guess I’m more concerned with where we’re going and what course we’re playing,” he said. “I’ve heard the rumors of (San Francisco). I’ve heard rumors of (South Carolina). I’ve heard rumors of Florida. I don’t know where the heck we would go in Florida. Seems like we already play every city in Florida.”

Accenture spent two years looking for a destination before choosing Southern Arizona. Beckner then said it was a five-part decision:

  • Good weather.
  • A history of pro golf support.
  • An available Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
  • First-class hotels.
  • Partnership with the Conquistadores.

It was 5 for 5 out of the box, but a golf tournament with a funky format didn’t take long to sting golfers sent home on Day One.

They have been colossally unhappy, unsettled and full of a vinegar never tasted when missing a routine cut at the Colonial or Bay Hill.

You know who hated it most when Charles Howell III and Nick O’Hern sent Tiger packing? Not Tiger, but the fans and the media.

On Wednesday, one of those previously outspoken against Dove Mountain, Graeme McDowell, sang a different song.

McDowell engineered one of the all-time comebacks, winning four straight holes to dispatch Gary Woodland in sudden death.

“I’ve hated this event in the past because I’ve been going home Wednesday afternoon,” he said. “But I’ve become more philosophical about this event, and really take it for what it is.”

It’s unlikely Finchem and a new sponsor have been poisoned by the traveling brigaed of media, who seem to dislike this location because they’ve been away from home for eight weeks and they can’t pile up reward points at a nearby Marriott or Sheraton.

Match Play’s departure will be business-driven, not contempt-driven.

The reason Adam Scott isn’t here is because he was one and done in 2011, 2012 and 2013, not because the golf course is somewhere in the sticks.

Not everyone with a recognizable face is as unforgiving as Scott.

“I’m easy,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “Wherever they want to play it, I’ll be there, and whatever format they want to play, I’ll play.”

Just beyond the driving range at the Golf Club of Dove Mountain, earthmovers have scraped away acres of desert vegetation and cleared room for a scores of luxury homes.

The vast Dove Mountain project began long ago not as a golf destination, but as a housing development. In that sense, it has been a success.

In four days, those Caterpillars will never again make a racket when Bubba Watson lines up a putt.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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