Greg Hansen: Match Play entertaining, regardless of who's gone

2011-02-24T00:00:00Z 2011-02-24T15:41:55Z Greg Hansen: Match Play entertaining, regardless of who's goneGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2011 12:00 am  • 

All of these people, maybe 20,000, came marching through the gates Wednesday. Sun worshippers, for sure, and golf fans and people-watchers. The buses started at sunrise and were still lined up at sunset, carrying people to the faraway parking lots.

I kept a list of the baseball caps I saw. Alcorn State. Toronto Maple Leafs. Cape Cod Baseball League. Ball State. Even Minnesota-Duluth and UTEP.

This is Tucson in February, a coast-to-coast demographic; some guy with a Wisconsin jersey watched tee shots standing next to a guy in a Cornhuskers cap.

A few minutes past 8 a.m., a man wearing an ASU cap got off a bus and asked to buy a daily pairings program.

"How much?" he asked Glenn Howell, a former UA football player who is now part of the sponsoring Conquistadores, manning the front gate.

Howell took a look at the Sun Devils cap and said, "They are usually $1, but for you, $2."

The man laughed, slipped Howell a buck, and with that had immediate access to this little plot of golf paradise, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain. What could go wrong?

OK, sure, Tiger Woods lost.

But this unpleasant news is not as emotionally disabling for the golf-and-sun crowd as it was two years ago. It no longer cripples walk-up ticket sales.

If it doesn't rain, this golf-tournament-amid-the-cacti has a chance to keep the shuttle buses full as Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson, or even Rickie Fowler, continue to pump oxygen into the life-after-Tiger Tour.

I am distressed that Tiger left the Ritz after making several references to "the process," a swing-changing evolution that he believes will soon restore him to the world's No. 1 ranking.

I'm not buying it. Joe DiMaggio wasn't fiddling with his batting stance at 35, was he? This reeks of desperation or, if nothing else, bad advice. Jack Nicklaus at 35 looked like Jack Nicklaus at 25 and 45.

Tiger's exit on Wednesday was much too reminiscent of Willie Mays falling down in center field, his glory days gone, in the 1973 World Series. In his sudden- death match with Thomas Bjorn, Woods sprayed his tee shot so far right that it came to rest in a thorny bush occupied previously by native scorpions and lizards.

"That fairway is, what, 200 yards wide?" he asked. "And I can't put the ball in the fairway. That's very disappointing."

So we are left with a snapshot of Woods, flailing in the cacti, twice, having no more success than some 22-handicapper using a 3-iron he has had in his bag since 1982.

Now, without interruption, we can put our energies into watching a golf tournament that, for all we know, will be played next year in Miami or Cancun or, God help us, Phoenix or Las Vegas.

Savor this while you can.

Once Woods left the property, the two most important men on the scene were PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Accenture's Gary Beckner, who is that group's director of global events, or in other words, a man who has enough power to move this tournament to a more cosmopolitan setting.

Beckner walked through the media center shortly before noon Wednesday, and it was like a scene out of "The Graduate." In that classic movie, Dustin Hoffman's character walks through the lobby of a hotel and is stopped by a series of employees who all say cheerily, "Hello, Mr. Gladstone."

As Beckner toured the media center, there were so many "Hello, Mr. Beckner's" that it almost created an echo.

Finchem, who was on hand 10 years ago when the Tucson Open learned, ironically, it would be played opposite the Match Play Championship, took one for the team Wednesday. When frosty greens delayed the start of play by 30 minutes, Finchem stood at the No. 1 tee, underdressed in a simple blazer and dress shirt.

The tour would be represented, no matter how cold it got.

Finchem was there with about 500 chilled fans when defending champion Ian Poulter hit the first shot. After Poulter was eliminated by Stewart Cink, he said, "I missed my chances, and therefore I have been punished."

It would be nice if it is the only such "punishment" this week; it would be better if Finchem and Beckner hold a news briefing later this week to announce that, even though Tiger is gone, the Match Play Championship will be back in 2012, and through the duration of the tour's TV contracts, maybe through 2014.

This isn't Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines, but on a workday in February, about 20,000 people cared enough to pay a minimum of $45 to walk into the desert and watch 64 men play golf.

And if you had to stand next to a Sun Devil fan, fine.

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