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Time to clean house at the WGC-Match Play Championship

Bob Harig
February 19, 2014
Rory McIlroy, warming up ahead of the WGC-Match Play Championship, would welcome a re-formatting © AP
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After an eight-year run in Arizona, the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship appears headed for a new venue, perhaps a new date and, if we're lucky, a tweaked format.

Accenture's contract to sponsor the World Golf Championship event is up after this week's event at Dove Mountain, a course that has not exactly been a favourite to those who compete here year after year. It ranked poorly in a GolfWorld survey of tour players on PGA Tour venues two years ago, and that stigma has been hard to shake.

So despite perfectly manicured fairways and a gorgeous backdrop, the tournament appears headed somewhere else in 2015, likely with a new sponsor.

And if all that change is going to occur, can we humbly suggest blowing the whole thing up, getting the top minds at the tour together to think outside the box, and come up with something truly unique that still embodies the match play concept?

Nowhere does it say there must be two World Golf Championship events in three weeks - as is the case now. In two weeks, most of the players who are here this week will be in Miami for the WGC-Cadillac Championship. That has been great for the Honda Classic, which gets rewarded with a great field as it is in the middle. But how is that so great for golf? Shouldn't these big events be spread out a bit?

Easier said than done, but if you're going to move from Arizona, maybe you move to a different place on the calendar. How about overseas, making it truly a "world" event. (Three of the four WGCs are now played in the United States.)

And if you do that, perhaps it's worth considering a change to the format.

Everyone loves match play until they look up and see just a handful of players on the course over the weekend. Wednesday is one of the best days of the golf year, 32 matches with lots of drama. The problem is, half the field is heading home on Wednesday night, and a lot of star power is lost.

Numerous suggestions have been put forth.

Perhaps the easiest would be to have 36 holes of stroke play to narrow the field down to 32 or 16 players who would then compete in match play. The European Tour's Match Play Championship has a smaller field and a round-robin format the first two days - you play each player in your group once - before getting to the knockout stage.

That would be more difficult with 64 players, but if you divided the field into 16 groups of four and had players compete against the other three players for the first three days of match play, you'd at least keep everyone on site until the field is narrowed to 16.

"I think they can maybe do best of both worlds, where it's 36-hole qualifying format, and then maybe the top 32 go through and play it out [in match play]," Rory McIlroy said. "I think that might be something better.

"As the matches go on, it's especially tough for the television coverage. There's a lot of time to fill. So it's hard to get around that."

True, but you can offer a better show by allowing more players to stick around early in the week.

Perhaps a double-elimination format until the weekend? True, it's not pure match play, but who said it had to be? Who said the Match Play had to be part of the West Coast swing?

Lots of things for the tour brass to consider going forward.

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com

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