Match Play needs more buzz

February, 19, 2006
Come each March, it's a rite of passage for the American sports fan. Everyone this side of Rick Neuheisel will fill out an NCAA basketball tournament bracket, jumping into the proverbial office pool head-first and with fingers crossed for a big payout.

You know the drill: Watch the Selection Sunday show, print up a bracket that night, then spend the next three-and-a-half days devouring analysis and tidbits while debating the merits of Murray State's perimeter game with friends and coworkers. The usual "Hey, how ya doing?" salutation gets replaced by "Hey, who ya got?" Finally, you submit the completed bracket sheet by noon ET on Thursday, then spend the next two weeks clutching to that piece of paper like it's a winning lottery ticket.

There could be a similar buzz about this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Could be and should be -- except the PGA Tour, which presides over the event, prevents that from happening. Unlike college hoops' yearly March Madness fiesta, in which brackets are announced on Sunday and games don't begin until Thursday -- giving fans adequate time to enter the office pool and make their selections -- those trying to enter Match Play Mania have barely more than one day to get everything together. That's because the tour allows players until Monday at 7 p.m. ET to withdraw from the tournament and be replaced by the next highest-ranked player in the world, meaning each competitor moves up a notch and the brackets change dramatically before first-round play begins on Wednesday.

This happens pretty frequently. Though Sergio Garcia was gracious enough to bow out of the tournament last week (it can be debated whether his reason -- "scheduling," his agent said -- is a valid one for skipping such a big event), other players might not do so until the 11th hour. There's already a report from The Sporting Life that one of the four No. 1 seeds, Retief Goosen, may withdraw from the tournament. Tiger Woods and Arron Oberholser each left the Nissan Open after two rounds due to illness. Their statuses could be up in the air. And Ben Crane hasn't played in three weeks after injuring his back. He's still in the field -- for now.

Players might contend that the late withdrawal process allows them to decide whether they can play with injury or illness, but with such a small period of time between when brackets become official and play begins, the Match Play fails to draw the wide-ranging interests of non-traditional golf fans. Give the tournament more build-up and the buzz will establish itself.

You can sign up for's Match Play Challenge fantasy game now. Just don't dawdle in making those picks. After all, there's not much time between when the bracket goes live and you can make your picks.

Jason Sobel | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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