Monday, November 19, 2007

ADT Championship: Don't Change a Thing!

Hound Dog and Bill Jempty (a.k.a. The Florida Masochist) have been having a spirited discussion on the 7th and 17th holes at Trump International--the killer par 3s of the 2007 ADT Championship, both of which played much tougher in 2007 than in 2006 (you only start to see doubles or worse there among those who didn't make it to Sunday play). Not having seen any holes of the tournament, either this year or last, I can't say for sure who's right. All I can say is we'd better be able to afford cable TV in 2008!

They do raise an interesting issue, though. How much quirk is too much? Only a few golfers can be said to have mastered the ADT's odd, pressure-packed format: Lorena Ochoa, of course, but also Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis. Gulbis, in particular, is an interesting case: if the Saturday scoring rules had been reversed in the past two years, she wouldn't have made the final 8 either time. Yet she's certainly handled the final-round pressure better than the only other two players to make it to both Sundays under this format, Karrie Webb and Mi Hyun Kim. For everyone else, dealing with 2 cuts and (this year) 2 more rounds when you're starting from scratch than usual has proven to be a difficult psychological adjustment, although Ai Miyazato, Cristie Kerr, Juli Inkster, and Morgan Pressel seem to be handling it fairly well (with 2 consecutive finishes in the Sweet 16 or better). When you compare this roster with those who have done well at the HSBC women's world match play event (regrettably on hiatus in the 2008 schedule), I think you'll conclude that this format is less quirky.

That's partly because the ADT has a 32-player rather than 64-player field. But it's mostly because a player's initial fate is decided over the first 36 holes (or more) of the ADT rather than the first 18 (or less) of the HSBC. Of course, in match play the worst thing that can happen (besides getting yourself DQed) is losing a hole, so if you have more than one big number at the ADT you are under a lot more pressure to play catch-up (which can lead to more bogeys or worse if the risks you take while doing so don't pay off)--so there's plenty of volatility on a course with as much water as the Trump International has. Which raises another question: why was the scoring so much higher this year than last, especially in the final round?

Hound Dog argues it's mostly 7 and 17, but I think differences in the weather and the pressure play a bigger role. I'm guessing about the weather, but I'm pretty sure that Ochoa going out in 31 and being one of the few players to avoid a disaster on the 7th put a lot of pressure on everyone else to go for broke. Under those circumstances, only Gulbis, Creamer, and Kerr (although birdieing 3 of her last 5 was too little too late for her) saw any results to speak of. Last year, Granada was leading at -3 through 10, but everyone in the field except Paula Creamer had a legitimate chance to catch her over the last 8 holes, so they could play closer to their normal games.

So I like the tournament format and course set-up for this year and don't see any reason to change either. I know some were arguing Granada should get an automatic bid as past champion, but what makes this event distinct right now is that the only way in is to earn it; setting aside a spot for anyone for any reason takes away from that uniqueness. As a season-ending tournament, anything that happened in the previous season is irrelevant.

In fact, the only change I'd support among the ones I've read about is to offer performance-based bonuses. If there were a small prize to the player(s) who shoot(s) the low round of the day in each of the first three rounds--say $20K--the best someone who doesn't get the $1M could walk away with would be $160K. If you raise that bonus to the order of $50K, you run the risk of the second-place finisher on Sunday making the same as someone who played great on Thursday or Friday but terrible on Saturday, or less than the same person who saved her disaster round for Sunday. Now, if we're going to be giving bonuses for low rounds, we should also give them for low totals. So if we award another $20K to the player(s) with the low total score after the end of Friday's and Saturday's play, then the most any non-Sunday-winner could make would rise to $200K. So that's $100K in additional prize money to give people incentive to excel on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, not just endure.

Other than that, I wouldn't change a thing.

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