Wednesday, June 18, 2008

18 Hole Playoff Format Vindicated

At least it is according to Bob DiCesare at the Buffalo News.

A sudden-death playoff Sunday just wouldn’t have been the same. A four-hole aggregate showdown, the format employed at the British Open, would have missed the mark. It makes perfect sense that when our national championship ends in a tie it should be determined over another round played the next day, with the deadlocked golfers starting anew. The full-round format cancels Sunday momentum and allows the anticipation to build.

Thankfully, the United States Golf Association remains firm on this issue, refusing to budge on behalf of television and viewer preferences.

[T]he USGA continues to honor our national championship by demanding a full-scale playoff. It won’t always result in the most compelling matchups, but one Woods-Mediate duel in a lifetime makes it all worthwhile.

I think DiCesare is coming from a short-sighted of the 18 hole playoff in the history of the US Open. In the history of the US Open, more playoffs are uninteresting than classics. The last one in 2001 between Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks ended in Goosen winning by two with a round of even par. Even something that close is not remembered very fondly - and those guys finished under par!

There are a few in relatively recent memory, though, that do stand up to the Woods-Mediate classic. In 1994, at Oakmont, Ernie Els beat Loren Roberts on the 92nd hole of the championship after disposing of Colin Montgomerie at the 90th. At Medinah in 1990, Hale Irwin beat Mike Donald by a shot in the famous hand-slapping victory.

The others of note are only of note because of the incredible upset involved (Fleck v. Hogan in 1955 and Ouimet in 1913 to put golf on the US map), or because of the legends involved (Trevino/Nicklaus in '72, Nicklaus/Palmer in '62 for the changing of the guard).

In effect, it is a crapshoot as to whether or not the playoff format works in practice. It has to have a close match and a great or infamous golfer involved for it to be remembered. Fortunately, though, this playoff had that and will go down as spectacular.

I do want to break up a misconception about this year's playoff, though, that came up in the piece and blogger Phil Capelle's yesterday.
There was one glitch in the Woods-Mediate showdown, and it came when the playoff extended beyond the 18-hole playoff. Instead of returning to hole No. 1, which would be standard course, the round continued at No. 7. Woods had struggled on No. 1 much of the week, making double bogey there three times. Conversely, No. 7, a monster par 4, put Mediate at a distinct disadvantage because of its length.
The sudden death holes were not rigged in Woods' favor. 7, 8, and 18 made an easy, repeatable loop around Torrey Pines South and that is why there were the sudden death holes. It was not because Mike Davis wanted Tiger to win. These were chosen long in advance of the championship based on course logistics and not the potential players involved.

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