The dawn of an era can be seen clearly only in hindsight, which is something the organizers of last week's Andersen Consulting Match Play will need to keep telling themselves in the months ahead. The first of the three new $5 million World Championships was promoted as the brave new world of golf but delivered the same old one. Yet once we absorbed the notion that hype shouldn't be mistaken for history, Jeff Maggert's chip-in to beat Andrew Magee on the 38th hole of the final really did seem like a special occasion.
Yes, an event designed to create showdowns between the game's most charismatic golfers was won by a low-profile worker bee, a player whose most identifiable trait had been an inability to close out tournaments. True, the seldom-used format again produced—just as it had in the years before the PGA Championship abandoned it in 1958—a relatively obscure, albeit engaging, final foursome. There is also no denying that somnambulant La Costa Resort and Spa, in Carlsbad, Calif., added nothing in the way of atmosphere.
On the other hand, watching the battle-scarred Maggert (he had only one victory but 12 second-place finishes) finally get out of his own way was a kick, as was last Wednesday's first round of 32 18-hole matches. Has anyone seen more action in the opening round of a tournament? By week's end it seemed clear that the framework for the World Championships—souped-up fields, gobs of prize money and wall-to-wall TV coverage—was strong enough to hold up against some heavy turbulence. "It was a classic way to end," said the victimized but still affable Magee. "I even enjoyed it a little bit, being the weirdo that I am."
Opinion was divided over whether the Match Play was an artistic success. One camp, those who believed that the tournament had to deliver star power to make an impact, thought the Andersen was a flop. Those who appreciate the nuances of the game—particularly when it's contested at match play—felt that, on the whole, the week went well.
One of the latter is Jack Graham, the producer of the 20 hours of live television coverage on ESPN and ABC. Having worked several U.S. Amateurs, Graham is a fan of match play but knows the format can turn on TV like a viper. He was aware that the expectations were unlikely to be met. Because the format called for a field of 64, seeded according to the World Ranking, comparisons with the NCAA basketball tournament were inevitable. That meant that casual viewers believed there was a better than average chance that Tiger Woods and David Duval—the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively—would mow down their halves of the draw and meet in the final.
The players, though, know that seedings are meaningless when matches are limited to 18 holes. "It's good for me," said Steve Pate, the 61st seed. "I figure I've got a better chance of beating these guys one day at a time than over four."
So it was with almost comical dispatch that the game's big names fell like toy soldiers. In the first round alone, Ernie Els (No. 7) went down to Paul Azinger (58), Colin Montgomerie (6) was smoked by Craig Stadler (59), Lee Westwood (5) was whipped by Eduardo Romero (60), Mark O'Meara (3) was hammered by Michael Bradley (62), and Davis Love III (4) got skinned by Pate. By the end of the week this stat had become the event's epitaph: Ten players ranked between 50th and 64th had beaten 10 players ranked first to 15th.
Early in the week the upsets made for great TV. On Wednesday, Graham, in a control room with 67 screens, monitored all 32 matches. His goal was to show at least one significant shot from each match, and the task of cutting from match to match turned into an event in itself. "Man, my head's spinning, and we've only been on for 15 minutes," he said.
The hits kept coming on Thursday, when Duval was beaten by Bill Glasson, who had never before played in a match play tournament. Also falling were Vijay Singh (8), Nick Price (9), Greg Norman (28)—he blew a 3-up lead with four holes to play against Romero—and Justin Leonard (10). On Friday morning Romero ousted Phil Mickelson (12) while Pate defeated Fred Couples (13), who before the match predicted, "This stuff makes me so nervous, I'll be choking like a dog."
By Friday afternoon's fourth round, the only player left from among the top 20 was Woods, who had beaten Nick Faldo, Bob Tway and Stewart Cink. When Woods jumped to a 2-up lead after three holes against Maggert, Graham was cheering him on. "I root for the best show," Graham said. "Obviously we'd love to have Tiger for the weekend."