LITTLE ROCK — No Tiger. No Phil. No problem.

LITTLE ROCK — No Tiger. No Phil. No problem.

For TV ratings, Woods and Mickelson are the names the major networks believe they must have to sell golf to casual fans. For those who embrace the give-and-take of the game more than the players, there is nothing better than the WGC Match Play championship.

The golf in the finals on Sunday was so compelling that if the lead characters had been Mickelson and Woods instead of Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson, the national media would have wondered out loud how the struggle stacked up with other memorable head-to-head duels.

If Mickelson had executed the Houdini-like escapes from the cacti twice like Dubuisson, somebody would have asked who was the best ever at saving par from nowhere — Lefty or Seve Ballesteros. If Woods had lost a two-hole lead with two to go, watched his opponent’s magic from a front-row seat, and then pulled himself together to birdie the 23rd hole, somebody would have asked who had more resolve — Tiger or Jack Nicklaus.

Match play is fascinating — a different mindset than the weekly PGA Tour event where the player to beat might not be identified until the final hour of the fourth round. In match play, a player can shoot 74 and win or 68 and lose and almost every shot is influenced by what is going on in the cocoon of his twosome.

After two rounds last week, PGA champion Jason Dufner said he had played so poorly that he probably would have missed the 36-hole cut at most PGA Tour events. Instead, he was in the Sweet Sixteen. Graeme McDowell led three times in his first three matches, on the 21st, the 19th, and the 18th hole. Jim Furyk won four holes in a row to take a one-up lead after 17 and lost, chipping weakly on his 19th hole.

Sticking with golf lingo, how about occasionally employing risk-reward and hybrid in a Tour event?

The former is used to describe a hole that dares the player to take a chance. I keep hoping that concept will spread to one of the major networks willing to show match play golf. Until then, the PGA Tour is not going to alter the 72-hole stroke play format.

I understand the risk that come Sunday afternoon, the championship match could end on No. 14 or No. 15 or earlier. I also understand that with only two players on the course, there is no other golf to provide filler material while the competitors are walking.

The counter is that the final round of a weekly Tour event is often filled with a "name" player tapping in a 6-inch par putt or some lesser known completing his first Top 10 finish.

So, maybe not four days of "win to stay in" like last week, but, a mesh of match and medal. As a fan, I would rather see a series of elimination contests on Thursday and Friday than two days of players maneuvering to get in position for the weekend. Often the platform for the first 36 holes, The Golf Channel would embrace the guaranteed drama.

Last week, there were 64 players in the field. Invitational tournaments usually have 100-120 players. A mix and match could start with 128. After two days, the 16 remaining players could tee it up for the weekend.

Yes, Woods and Mickelson might lose. So what? That’s part of the attraction of match play.

If you think the NCAA Tournament bracket is a challenge, try the WGC match play. This year, No. 16 seed Richard Sterne took out No. 1 seed Zach Johnson — something that has never happened to the No. 1 seeds in basketball. In golf, all the No. 1 seeds were gone before the third round. The overall No. 1 seed has not made it to the third round in six years.

Good TV.


Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is