Golf: Grand designs on domination of golf: Tim Glover questions the quality of the format for the World Match Play Championship but not the worth of its winner

Click to follow
The Independent Online
NICK FALDO'S runaway victory in the Toyota World Match Play Championship at Wentworth emphasised the influence the world No 1 has had on the game during the course of a memorable season. The event also highlighted the equally impressive influence being brought to bear on golf by Mark McCormack's International Management Group.

The championship, created and run by IMG, began with a McCormack speech at the draw and finished on Sunday with the ubiquitous American holding centre stage at another press conference. It was held to announce the merger of the golf course design companies of the European Tour and IMG. The board of the new company, European Golf Design, will comprise four directors from the Tour and four from IMG. The executive chairman is Colin Maclaine, former chairman of the Royal and Ancient championship committee.

The concept is to offer a complete service of course design, construction and maintenance. 'It represents an opportunity for the Tour and IMG to become involved in probably the singularly most important part of the game's on-going development, the creation of new courses,' Ken Schofield, executive director of the Tour, said.

It was not so long ago that Schofield said he was 'declaring war' on the players' agents, principally IMG, over the question of appearance money. This latest development gives IMG another string to a bow that has already targeted most facets of professional golf. It has its own players, its own tournaments, its own television company and, increasingly, it will have its own courses.

The 29th World Match Play, despite record prize-money, was not a particularly good vintage. IMG, by increasing the field from eight players to 12, has been able to stretch the championship to four days but at a cost. The format favours the top seeds and the draw, carefully orchestrated, has only four names in the hat.

When asked if he should not follow the style of a draw made, for example, in tennis, without byes, McCormack replied that tennis had got it wrong. He then added that, in fact, he saw no difference in the draws made in the World Match Play and a tennis tournament. The top four seeds, however, are spared having to go 36 holes round Wentworth's Burma Road in the first round. This seems patently unfair on those who have to play an extra match.

Two years ago Mark McNulty, who had to play from day one, was beaten in the final by Ian Woosnam, after which the Zimbabwean said he felt drained. 'I had nothing left in my legs,' he said. Jeff Sluman, who was overpowered 8 and 7 by Faldo on Sunday, also had little to offer after getting past Vijay Singh, Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam. Faldo, who did not play until Friday, put out Mark O'Meara and Nick Price.

The discrepancy should not detract from Faldo's golf, which is consistently better than anybody else's. Sluman did not offer any excuses for the one-sided final. He offered reasons. 'American players accept that Faldo is the best player in the world, no question. Fred Couples went through a streak but look at the last three or four years and Faldo has been the best player and is now. He drives the ball well, he doesn't miss with his irons and he's a good putter. He has a complete game. He works hard, probably harder than most, he's technically sound and knows how to win. That is the prototype of the No 1 golfer in the world. Before him, to find a parallel, was Watson and before that Nicklaus.'

Of the four major winners this year only two, Faldo and Price (both IMG clients), were at Wentworth. Honda put a spoke in Toyota's wheel by signing up Couples for a conflicting event in Germany before the American had won the Masters while Tom Kite, the US Open champion, gave the World Match Play a miss to open a course in Tennessee.

Couples's absence prompted IMG to bleat about the fact that he was receiving a 'substantial financial guarantee' to play in Hamburg. 'The World Match Play does not enter into such arrangements, preferring instead to rely upon the prize-money and the stature of the event to attract the world's best players,' IMG added, with breathtaking nerve. Before a ball was hit, the first-round losers at Wentworth were guaranteed pounds 22,500, the four top seeds pounds 27,500.

Faldo, who won pounds 160,000, is on course to break all sorts of prize- money records but he is not playing in the pounds 1m Alfred Dunhill Cup, which starts at St Andrews on Thursday, even though it is an IMG event. Faldo plays in Japan the following week and also on his schedule is the Grand Slam in America, where he will play against Couples, Kite and Price for dollars 1m (pounds 590,000) over two days.

(Photograph omitted)