WHY DELL MATCH PLAY HAS RY­DER CUP FLA­VOR

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - Kirk Bohls Commentary

Wed­nes­day will mark the start of the sec ond an­nual World Golf Cham­pi­onships-Dell Tech­nolo­gies Match Play event, a mouth­ful of a tour­na­ment if ever there was. Or, more sim­ply, the Ry­der Cup 2.0, if you will. OK, maybe not. But it’d be a shorter name. Just not ex­actly the same in terms of the emo­tional fur­nace or in­tense fe­roc­ity or hair-rais­ing, pa­tri­otic verve and hope­fully not in terms of rau­cous, bawdy and down­right vul­gar fan be­hav­ior. Yeah, let’s hope not, on the lat­ter. You can keep it weird all you want, Austin, but keep it clean, too. We’ve got a rep­u­ta­tion to up­hold. If you want to boo some­one, go to the Capi­tol. That said, this Dell event has some of the same

rich fla­vor as that bi­en­nial in­ter­na­tional event — not to men­tion many of the same mar­quee par­tic­i­pants — but also a sim­i­lar for­mat, unique­ness and same off-the-beaten-path feel. Austin never hosted a PGA Tour event be­fore last year, and do they even have a Buc-ee’s at Chaska, Minn., which hosted last year’s Ry­der Cup?

This Dell field is Ry­der Cup-qual­ity. The top 64 golfers in the world, count­ing al­ter­nates, com­pet­ing at Austin Coun­try Club won’t ex­actly see this five-day, mano-a-mano tour­na­ment as an ex­ten­sion of the Ry­der Cup, but this tour­na­ment will bring back to­gether 21 of those 24 par­tic­i­pants — 10 Euro­pean and 11 Amer­i­can golfers who gave it their all in Team USA’s dra­matic 2016 Ry­der Cup win at Hazel­tine.

You want to see a re­peat of Phil Mick­el­son ver­sus Ser­gio Gar­cia, one of the most thrilling Ry­der Cup matches ever, with a com­bined 19 birdies and match­ing 63 scores on the fi­nal day? Maybe you’ll see a redo.

You want to see for­mer No. 1 player in the world Rory McIl­roy bat­tle Amer­ica ris­ing star and 3-1-1 fin­isher Pa­trick Reed as they did down to the 18th hole in Min­nesota last fall? It’s pos­si­ble to watch from your boat on Lake Austin.

Like to catch Ry­der Cup rookie Ryan Moore, the last cap­tain pick by Davis Love III, recre­ate his magic with his clinch­ing win over Lee West­wood? They’re both here.

How grip­ping was the ac­tion? McIl­roy was so in­censed by the loss — as well as rude treat­ment by U.S. fans — that in the Euro­pean team pic­ture taken right be­fore the clos­ing cer­e­mony, the Ir­ish­man was the only one who looked to­tally in­censed, scowl­ing with his arms crossed. That’s how com­pelling Ry­der Cup ac­tion is, and this of­fers a slight taste of it with­out the team as­pect.

Brooks Koepka, play­ing in his first Ry­der Cup at age 26, was over­whelmed by the event if not the stage since he turned in a 3-1 per­sonal record.

“It was un­like any­thing you can imag­ine,” Koepka said on his way to prac­tice his chip­ping. “It was like play­ing in a sta­dium. That’s the only time I’ve got­ten goose bumps on a golf course.”

Jimmy Walker, the reign­ing PGA Cham­pion, loved his se­cond Ry­der Cup ven­ture and re­mem­bered that the fans were “crazy loud and sup­port­ive, and win­ning at home was pretty amaz­ing, con­sid­er­ing how much pres­sure we were un­der.”

Yeah, los­ing three in a row and eight of 10 to the over­seas chaps will do that.

And like the Ry­der Cup, this WGC stop is the only match play tour­na­ment on the en­tire PGA Tour. Stroke play isn’t ex­actly for sissies, but match play is a whole ’nother an­i­mal, re­quir­ing strat­egy, guts and equal parts ag­gres­sion and pa­tience. Those 21 Ry­der Cup­pers could have a slight ad­van­tage here.

“I like that it’s dif­fer­ent,” Jor­dan Spi­eth said. “You can play more ag­gres­sive. You can take more chances. Play­ing one on one brings in a very men­tal side of golf. If you asked the play­ers, I think a lot would like to have it more of­ten. If you ask me, I think it’d be great if a ma­jor tour­na­ment was match play, but I’m not sure how the for­mat would work.”

Nice thought, but I kinda think Au­gusta might pre­fer to stay the way it is. Call it a hunch.

But why can’t this be Ry­der Cup Lite? Will the Euros look at this as a re­match and try to avenge a 17-11 loss?

“I don’t think the guys would see it like that,” of­fered Matt Fitz­patrick, the 22-year-old golf prodigy from Eng­land who com­peted in his first Ry­der Cup last fall. “I wouldn’t think so.”

Nei­ther an Amer­i­can nor a Euro­pean is the de­fend­ing champ at Dell. Aus­tralian Ja­son Day owns that honor af­ter best­ing South African Louis Oosten­huizen in the fi­nals a year ago. But they can com­pete for the in­ter­na­tional team in the up­com­ing Pres­i­dents Cup, which the US of A has won nine out of 11.

And now that the Yanks have bro­ken through and in­ter­rupted the Euro dom­i­nance in the Ry­der Cup, maybe the tide has turned, and that event could take on a more red, white and blue hue.

“It could do that,” Fitz­patrick said. “Amer­ica has a lot of up and com­ing play­ers. It could be an ex­cit­ing few years.”

Yes, it could, but then the Euro­peans are brim­ming with tal­ent, too. They had six rook­ies on their Ry­der Cup team, all of them un­der the age of 30 and in­clud­ing Masters cham­pion Danny Wil­lett. And that McIl­roy fel­low has a ma­jor or four, and Hen­rik Sten­son just won The Open. And they’ll have home-course ad­van­tage in 2018 in Paris, which prob­a­bly doesn’t have a Buc-ee’s ei­ther. Oh, well.

Viva Amer­ica. We’ll al­ways have Hazel­tine.

STREETER LECKA / GETTY IM­AGES

Brooks Koepka, who played at the 2016 Ry­der Cup for the first time at age 26, said he was over­whelmed by the event: “That’s the only time I’ve got­ten goose bumps on a golf course.”

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