Wednesday will mark the start of the second 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. 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 goosebumps 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 its 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.