EVEN if you're not a golf fan, the World Golf Championship this week has got to be compelling stuff.
In this game, you lose
and you go home
Anytime you can get 64 of the world's best players in any sport together, pair 'em off, gladiator-style, in one-on-one battles until only one remains standing and walks off with a million dollars, it's got to be good theater.
It is golf's answer to the NCAA basketball tournament with its 64-team field.
What a marquee finish it would be if Tiger Woods meets David Duval in the 36-hole final Sunday with the winner getting $1 million, besides bragging rights as No. 1 in the world based on actual performance, not computer manipulations.
I've always been a proponent of at least one major golf championship being conducted in a match-play format. The PGA Championship used to be just that until 1958.
The biennial Ryder Cup and the spin-off Presidents Cup, both match-play events, have provided stirring moments. But the one ingredient that has always been missing -- one which stirs our juices -- is that there's no money involved.
And, no winner take all.
So with the World Golf Championships -- three of them over the course of the year -- golf will take on a brave new whirl.
AS with anything new, there will be questions, gripes and some tinkering required. But before anybody gets worked up, let's see how the event at the La Costa Country Club in Carlsbad, Calif., unfolds first.
The other two in the WGC series -- also $5 million events with the winner getting $1 million -- will be at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, Aug. 23-29 and at Valderrama, Spain, Nov. 1-7.
This week's 64-player field is based on the Official World Rankings as of Feb. 15.
As No. 1, Woods is top-seeded, while Duval, who's No. 2, heads the other bracket, so if they meet, it wouldn't be until the final round.
The field at Akron will be limited to 40 players who took part in the latest Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
The final event -- after both the American and European tour championships -- will be open to the top 50 world players and 15 invitees.
That's one of the criticisms of the WGC: That it will widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.
By not being eligible to play in the three elite events, which will count in official money, middle-tier golfers are deprived of the chance to improve on their money-ranking positions.
Not only is opportunity taken away from guys farther down the money list, but disparity will be even greater since the guys who are eligible remain eligible to win more money and points based on strength of field. Talk about Catch-22.
BUT who said life is fair? Anyway, those on the American PGA Tour need not worry about international players who aren't members because the WGC winnings, while official, only count on their own tour money list.
For those who don't know a birdie from a bogey, in match play a golfer wins, loses or ties a hole based on his score and that of his opponent. The match ends when one player leads by more holes than there are left to play.
With the first day possibly being the last, play will be more aggressive. There's little room for conservative play.
"I think every fan wants to see a bit of a dog fight, a head-to-head fight," said Ernie Els.
"We play so many stroke play events, I think people have forgotten how exciting match play can be. You lose your match, you go home," Els said.
A top-10 finish won't do here. You either win or lose. That should make golf this week compelling.
It all starts with No. 1 Tiger Woods taking on No. 64 Nick Faldo -- the new young gun vs. the old gunslinger -- in one of the 32 first-round matches tomorrow.