What is the world of professional golf coming to? Last week we had one of the oldest tournaments on the PGA Tour played in a team format and this week we have something called the GolfSixes on the European Tour. Traditionalists are still well catered for because the Wells Fargo Championship in the States is a four day 72 hole strokeplay tournament that runs from Thursday to Sunday.
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Both man tours have relatively new bosses who are looking to take golf to a wider audience. The vast majority of tournaments around the world have the tried and tested format of four rounds over 18 holes with the best scorers playing the final two rounds over the weekend. There is nothing wrong with that format as it identifies the best golfer over four rounds but new ideas are now being tried. Its all about capturing a new fan base and boosting viewing figures.
Television is often the driving force behind more viewer friendly concepts and the TV companies pay good money to broadcast events so they deserve a say. GolfSixes is a team match play event over the weekend when more viewers are likely to watch. The event will be played in the greensomes format, with teams choosing their best tee shot and then playing alternate shots.
On Saturday the 16 teams will play in four groups of four on a round robin basis. The two top teams will progress to the knockout stages from quarter-finals to the final, all played on Sunday. All the matches are played over six holes at the Centurion Club in St Albans. This week matches will be played over a 2276-yard par 24 mini-course that will put a premium on accuracy over distance. Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan have the class and ranking to win the event for England, the host team.
The Wells Fargo Championship is clearly stuck in the past. It’s a traditional tournament played over four rounds from Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon. Most professional events will still be played in this format and the four major championships are unlikely to move away from the tried and tested format. Players only earn prize money if they make the cut and that concentrates the mind. More than half the competitors are eliminated after 36 holes and don’t make a penny from playing but still have expenses to cover so its brutal but pure competition.
The Wells Fargo Championship is the last PGA event before next week’s Players Championship. That tournament attracts the strongest field of the year for a regular event and it is known as the fifth major. After the four major championship the Players is the one that players would like to win most as they are competing against all their peers. The strength of the field this week has suffered but the world number one, Dustin Johnson, is competing. He missed the Masters Tournament due to a freak injury and might be ring rusty on his return to competitive action.
The tournament is being played at Eagle Point Golf Club in North Carolina. This is a new venue and a departure from Quail Hollow which has staged the event since it first appeared on the schedule in 2003. Rory McIlroy is the only multiple winner but he is absent this week. Eleven of the 14 champions were US players and the only other overseas winner was Vijay Singh in 2005. Four of the last six renewals have gone to a playoff. The average winning score over the last 10 years is 14 under.
There is no course form to assess this week so we are dependent on current form and key skills to identify potential contenders. Eagle Point is centre stage this week because Quail Hollow will host the PGA Championship in August. The course is a par 72 track measuring 7,575 yards so is above average in length. Most of the fairways are tree-lined so driving must be relatively long and accurate.
Johnson is just about the best driver in golf and at his best could lap this field. We are taking a risk that he is in prime condition. His claims cannot be ignored and he is the most likely winner but that is reflected in the odds. Sometimes you should not ignore the obvious and that is the case with the Wells Fargo Championship this week.