Few answers as Match Play's future here hangs by a thread

2014-02-24T00:00:00Z Few answers as Match Play's future here hangs by a threadBy Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Sometime, perhaps next month, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will announce his plans for the 2015 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

The location?

“You can do your own thinking on that,” Finchem said.

San Francisco?

“Like I said, lots of options out there,” he said.

With a new weekend?

“There are some potential dates,” he said.

And a new sponsor?

“We’re looking at a lot of different options, talking to a lot of potential sponsors,” he said. “I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point. We haven’t moved in any one direction. We don’t have any particular agenda.”

With the same format?

“We have been with this format for a long time,” he said, “so we’ll see.”

Well, at least Southern Arizonans won’t have to wait long. Just a couple of weeks, right?

“I said a few weeks,” Finchem said before Sunday’s championship match. “To be realistic, I think we get into the spring, in April, we need to know where we’re going … You want more time to be in the marketplace and prepare.”

So the future of Match Play here will remain cloudy, even following a sun-kissed, talent-blessed, dramatic week at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain. Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson punctuated this year’s tournament with the most compelling Match Play final in tournament history. The two went 22 holes Sunday before Day won it with a birdie on No. 23.

Day took home $1.53 million, life-changing money for someone who entered this week’s tournament with just one PGA Tour win. He’ll be ranked No. 4 when the World Golf Rankings are released today.

“Don’t change the course and don’t change the format,” Day said Sunday. “I’ll come back every year.”

Match Play has been played on Dove Mountain — first at The Gallery Golf Club, South Course, and then at The Golf Club — since 2007. Tiger Woods won here in 2008 as the world’s No. 1-ranked player. Ian Poulter took home his first stateside tournament in 2010. Luke Donald cried, his wife and daughter by his side, when he won in 2011. Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar struck a blow for American golfers with their victories in 2012 and 2013.

Fans came, embracing the tournament’s funky schedule — Wednesdays are the best for golf watching, and Sundays are slow — and braving bouts of bad weather. Rain and hail marred the early rounds in 2010. Last year’s tournament was ruined by snow and the ensuing scramble to finish the event.

Still, PGA Tour officials know that Southern Arizona offers some of the best weather in the United States this time of year. The tournament could move to another country — Colombia has been mentioned — but runs the risk of alienating even more of the world’s best golfers. The Tour moved the 2001 tournament to Melbourne, Australia, then watched as most of the world’s top golfers — those ranked first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 16th and 20th — backed out. Steve Stricker topped Pierre Fulke in a tournament that, 13 years later, is viewed as a failed experiment.

By comparison, this year’s field — which included 64 of the world’s top 67 golfers but did not include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott — was practically legendary. Sunday’s third-place match, between Ernie Els and Rickie Fowler, was an intergenerational donnybrook — one that the younger Fowler won in 19 holes. Day’s win and Dubuisson’s grit will be talked about for years to come, even if the tournament ceases to exist.

While Finchem said he’d consider a different format for the tournament, “98.5 percent of eligible players have played over the years.”

“I don’t think that’s a major issue,” he said.

The future of the tournament, however, has little to do with players’ perception and participation, and less to do with walk-up crowds. Accenture is unlikely to return as Match Play’s title sponsor in 2015. The new sponsor, assuming the PGA Tour can find one, will have a say in where — and, possibly, when — the next event will take place.

Perhaps the tournament’s savior was watching Sunday, as shadows and a stunning sunset silhouetted a fantastic finish. Or maybe Match Play’s demise is already a done deal, and Finchem is too polite to deliver the deathblow while standing on Arizona soil.

Regardless, the future of Match Play in Southern Arizona will be decided — eventually.

“We’re just looking at all the opportunities that are out there,” Finchem said, “and my guess is it’s going to be several weeks before we settle on it.”

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

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