Yes, I am admittedly ripping off Zach Lowe's regular “10 things I like and don't like” format, but I couldn’t help but categorize my thoughts this way after a week in Austin taking in the match play action.
I like: This shot
I've watched this at least 20 times… doesn't get old.
It parallels when Bubba played in the NBA All-star Celebrity game and got rejected by Tracy McGrady.
I like: Gamesmanship
Match play turns players against each other and brings in the element of gamesmanship. It adds some spice to the usual cordial and friendly fraternity of golfers. A few of my favorite moments were Jason Day making Jason Dufner putt from inside the leather, which drew a reaction out of Dufner:
And leading up to the Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed match, the two exchanged words that added some spice to the match.
I don't like: The term upset
It's an annual tradition; golf is sent into a frenzy when a top seed at the Dell Match Play loses to a bottom seed. This year, it happened with both Dustin Johnson losing to Bernd Wiesberger and Rory McIlroy losing to Peter Uihlein. I know the format lends itself to comparison with the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, but these "upsets" are not anything like 16-seed UMBC beating 1-seed Virginia. Bernd Wiesberger has ranked as high as 23 in the world and Peter Uihlein was the top-ranked amateur in the world before turning pro. These "upsets" are more like a 10 seed taking out a 7 seed.
I like: The recovery shot
Match play allows for aggressive play because no matter what score a player makes, they only lose one hole. It brings the recovery shot to the forefront. Without fear of a big number that can ruin a round, players are allowed to attempt heroic shots. It leads to shots like this:
Thomas went on to save par and halve the hole.
I don't like: The format, scheduling and little things with this event
I have already written about why and how I would change the format of this event. Beyond the format, there are a number of other issues that hinder one of the rare alternative formats on the PGA Tour schedule.
On Thursday, Paul Casey beat Kyle Stanley 4 & 2 in an 18-hole match. On Friday, Casey lost to Matt Fitzpatrick, bringing his pool play record to 2-1, and Stanley beat Russell Henley to get to 2-1 on the week. A logical thought was that Paul Casey would move on because he beat Kyle Stanley when the two faced off.
Well that's not the case! Casey and Stanley went to a sudden death playoff to see who would advance to the round of 16. Stanley won on the 2nd hole to advance. Yup, that's right, the PGA Tour has decided that a singular hole is more significant than an 18 hole match. Talk about contrived...
Falling two weeks before the season's first major, the Match Play is the most grueling event on the PGA Tour schedule. The four players who make it to Sunday's action play 126 holes of competitive golf in five days. If they played last week's Arnold Palmer and planned to play this week's Houston Open, I would hardly consider it an ideal run-up to the year's first major.
The format and grass types are also deterrents, and we see some of the game's biggest names skip the event (Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose). These players chose to play at the Golf Club of Houston because of its grass types and the 72-hole stroke play format they will see again at Augusta National.
The top 50 deadline
The WGC-Match Play is also the final week for players to play their way into the top 50 of the world rankings and earn an invitation to the Masters. This adds some drama as players try to play their way into the top 50 by winning matches, but players also earn "free points" for just showing up. These free points make it more difficult for players to play their way into the top 50. Case in point is what happened to Ian Poulter.
The third place match
I know why it exists (TV), but c'mon. After playing 54 holes in roughly 28 hours, I imagine playing another 18 was exactly what Justin Thomas and Alex Noren wanted to do.
I like: Pete Dye's strategy
Austin C.C. was built at the same time Pete Dye was working on TPC Sawgrass, and you can see a great deal of similarities between the two. The topography couldn't be more different, but the strategy is on point. Like TPC Sawgrass, Pete Dye uses the angles of greens and hazards to challenge the world's best players. On most holes, taking on the risk yields the very best angle, and every yard off that ideal line gets a less ideal angle to approach the green.
Brian Silva mentioned this on a podcast and how he had a career-altering moment after seeing an aerial image of the Pete Dye-designed PGA West.
Pete Dye can catch flack for some of his golf courses and the penal nature of them, but he is the most influential golf course architect since 1930. He's responsible for pulling GCA out of the Dark Ages and was also a mentor to today's great architects, such as Bill Coore, Tom Doak, Jim Urbina, Rod Whitman and many more.
I Like: Justin Thomas’s ascension
Justin Thomas fell one match short of his bid to become the number one player in the world, but regardless of rank, he is the most complete player in golf. His progression and year-to-year improvement have been incredible. Let's take a look at his stats over his career.
I don't like: Volvik
I can't decide what’s worse, Bubba's decision to play the colored balls or Volvik's decision to offer Bubba an endorsement deal.
Bubba went from the 10th-ranked player to the 68th-ranked player during his time with Volvik. The win this week projects Bubba Watson to 21st in the world.
This slide also cemented the fact that no male professional golfer will ever voluntarily use a Volvik in competition ever again.
I like: Bubba being back
I am in no way a Bubba Watson fan, but golf needs as many personalities as it can get, and Bubba is one of its biggest. Watching Bubba Watson hit a golf ball is arguably golf's greatest spectacle. Having him back winning events is good for the game.
I like: Kisner's response to this question
That's all for now.