Rumford Up At Karrinyup

19 February 2017
European Tour

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Brett Rumford won the inaugural ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth at Lake Karrinyup Country Club on Sunday, defeating Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai 2&1 the final six hole matchplay encounter. It was the 37 year old Australian’s sixth win on the European Tour and his first since a superb two week spell in 2013 when he won back-to-back events at the Ballantine’s Championship and the Volvo China Open. Since then, Rumford had lost form and even lost his European Tour card by the end of 2016, but this victory in his home town secures his card and puts him right up to the to 11th in the Race to Dubai standings. After the event Rumford was very gracious towards his background team that has helped him in the last few months and I suspect that a player of his pedigree, who clearly knows how to win and is now playing with a renewed lease of life, will feature high on many leaderboards during the remainder of the season.

The event format, whilst not attracting huge numbers of top ranked players, seemed to come off very well and has to be considered a success. The climactic stages were tense with several of the matches going to extra hole shootouts and plenty of good golf being played on a classy golf course. Louis Oosthuizen, last year’s winner of the Perth International strokeplay event held here between 2012 and 2016, fell at the quarter final stage after finding the sand on the short shootout playoff hole to hand the win to Adam Bland. Brett Rumford had dominated the first three rounds and would have taken a five shot lead into Sunday in a strokeplay format, albeit this point being irrelevant in the context of competition design structure, yet finishing in the top 8 at least afforded him a bye past the first knockout round. He backed up his lead in matchplay, seeing off Hideto Tanihara, Wade Ormsby and Adam Bland en route to the showdown with 17 year old Khongwatmai. Rumford edged ahead in the final and was 1-up on the par three 5th tee (Lake Karrinyup’s 12th hole) where he delivered a decisive tee shot to close range. Khongwatmai, pressured into going at the flag, pulled his tee shot left into an impossible lie in the greenside bunker on the short side and when his bizarre effort to get out of the bunker with a putter failed to come off, the title was Rumford’s.

Louis Oosthuizen commented that apart from a “few tweaks here and there” he was positive about the format. What the tournament certainly adds is several extra junctures of potential drama compared to a normal 4-day strokeplay tournament, namely the third round cut to 24 players and the relentless knock-out final day format which proved to be entertaining throughout. The event would possibly have been enhanced had: (a) there been a higher proportion of big names in the field; and (b) had pre-tournament favourites such as Alex Noren, Lasse Jansen, Peter Uihlein and Thorbjorn Olesen performed better – all failed to make it to the Sunday matchplay stage, but taking nothing away from the players who produced an excellent spectacle in front of a healthy crowd. Local knowledge and home soil proved to be hugely significant factors this week, with Australians comprising 13 of the final 24 and 6 of the 8 quarter finalists.

If I am to be critical, I think that the prize structure could be reconsidered, particularly for the lower placings. In the end players that finished T25 went home with €12,741 each, whilst those who made the final 24 but lost in the first knockout round took away between €13,877 and €16,316. This means that in some cases players who negotiated the significant Saturday evening hurdle still ended up taking away just €1,136 more than the players in T25th. Ideally the marginal incentive for making the final 24 would be greater. Players always try to finish as high as they can every week for tour earnings/points and world ranking points of course, however with this particular format an extra reward for making the top 24 would be no harm.

Overall an enjoyable format and an innovation that I hope goes from strength to strength. I will also be keeping my eye out in the future for young Khongwatmai making more attempts at putting out of bunkers!

Afterword – I was surprised and confused by comments made by Sky’s Nick Dougherty regarding the tournament: surprised by his negativity towards the format; confused by the lack of logic behind his views. In his opinion, which he stated was from a player’s perspective, the format renders the first 54 holes somewhat meaningless if a player leading by seven strokes still ends up losing his first knockout match, and he felt that the tournament’s status is undermined if the “best person does not win” and it throws up a “strange winner”. He was also not very enthusiastic about the location of the event so in Perth. In summary he suggested that the tournament should not count for the Race to Dubai! This is remarkably simplistic input from Nick, whether he is seeing it from a player’s perspective (former player that is) or not. The appeal of it is the marriage of strokeplay and matchplay to determine which players can position themselves over the first three days in one format and excel in the final day shootout in another format. The players will already know that leading the tournament by seven shots after the first three days is going to be somewhat irrelevant in terms of winning the event, but that is how it is structured and that is what the players are entering into. There is a clear goal at the start of the tournament, finishing in the top 24 after three days guarantees a minimum finish and gets you into the super sixes where anything can happen. There is also a clear incentive for players to aim to finish in the top 8, with two clear benefits: (1) to earn a bye past the first matchplay round; and (2) a guaranteed finish within the top 16 at the end of Sunday’s play. Whenever professionals are involved in matchplay everyone says how they would like to see more of it, so to immediately undermine such a brave attempt at innovation seems quite odd. What confused me even further was that Dougherty was so positive about the Centurion Golf Sixes team event coming up, his argument being that “it is what it is” and it is “fun”.  Is he saying that the Perth event is not “what it is” and is not fun? As far as I could see, Perth very much looked like “what it is” and it looked a lot of fun, as the players involved stated afterwards. He said that the Centurion is not “pretending to be a normal tournament”, as if to suggest that Perth was pretending in some respect. Both tournaments are not pretending to be anything. Both tournaments are competitions designed in certain ways aimed at providing different types of drama to the spectator and different incentives to the players. There are varying tournament formats and competitive circumstances in golf. The WGC strokeplay events have no cuts, so is Nick saying these should not be ranking tournaments? Several tournaments are played on more than one course (Farmers Insurance Open, AT&T Pebble Beach, Dunhill Links, Joburg Open). Is Nick saying that those tournaments are pretending to be something else as well? What if a tournament is reduced to 54 holes due to bad weather? Should these events not count for the Race to Dubai as well? As for matchplay events such as the WGC Matchplay or the Paul Lawrie, by Nick’s 54 hole lead logic, players who win matchplay matches 10&8 in the first round should be given a bye to the semi-final. The fact is, different tournament formats offer different incentives to competitors and different spectacles to viewers, and as long there is a good combination of spectator interest and player incentive then the competition has a chance of achieving its objectives. Fans and players welcome something new! In any event, Nick’s theory regarding the 54 hole leader curse also proved unfounded, as Brett Rumford, leading by five strokes after three rounds, took huge confidence and belief from his first three rounds into Sunday. He was also able to benefit from his seeded position in the top 8, meaning that he played one less match than Khongwatmai in the end, where fatigue may have told even for the athletic 17 year old Thai. Rumford described the final day format as “gruelling”. True, the organisers may wish to consider a slightly less gruelling system next year, however that point in itself is interesting and suggestive of something that would further contradict Dougherty’s logic, in that, if anything, this tournament should have a larger prize and Race to Dubai points pool and therefore count for even more given the enormity of the task required to finish in the higher places!