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Match Play adopts 'World Cup-type' format for 2015

(Reuters) - A revamped WGC-Match Play Championship will take a leaf out of the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil when it is staged for the first time at the TPC Harding Park in San Francisco next year.

Apart from a change of venue, organizers hope that a "World Cup-type format" will breath new life into the first of the season's four elite World Golf Championships (WGC) events where so often in the past the top players have made early exits.

Instead of the traditional 'tennis-style' draw where the top seed takes on the 64th seed in the opening round, the 64 players who qualify via the world rankings will be organized into 16 groups of four and guaranteed a minimum of three matches.

"We're going to do it differently next year," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem told a news conference on Wednesday after Harding Park had been announced as the venue for the 2015 edition. "It's going to be a World Cup-type format.

"It's kind of nice that we're able to talk about that in the context of everybody in the United States being riveted to that format over the last month in Brazil where we'll be playing golf in the Olympics for the first time in '16."

Golf will be returning to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 when the Rio de Janeiro Games are held in 2016.

"The 64 players will be broken down into groups of four: 16 groups of four, and then on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, they'll all play each other," Finchem said of the new Match Play Championship format.

"And then we'll cut to the top 16 players out of that to play to 16, eight, four and two on the weekend."

FICKLE NATURE

The playing format has been revised to help address the fickle nature of the championship where there has never been any guarantee that the game's top players will still be in the draw from the quarter-final stage onwards.

Former world number one Tiger Woods is a three-times winner of the event but he has also suffered early disappointment, losing at the first hurdle in 2002, 2011 and last year and going out in the second round in 2005, 2009 and 2012.

This year's edition, held for the final time in Marana, Arizona from Feb. 19-23, suffered with three notable absentees after Woods, second-ranked Australian Adam Scott and five-times major winner Phil Mickelson opted not to play.

Finchem outlined three good reasons for the championship's format change.

"It's a lot more golf," he said. "There are going to be 96 matches for fans here to go out and watch on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Secondly, over time, the best players rise to the top so we think that'll be positive as it goes into the weekend.

"Third, if you're a Steve Stricker fan or a Bubba Watson fan or a Tiger Woods fan, you're going to be able to follow your favorite player for three days hoping that he makes it into the round of 16.

"It's a new direction for the Match Play for sure but one that's going to create a lot more enthusiasm and excitement."

Australian Jason Day, the tournament's eighth seed, won this year's Match Play Championship with a one-up victory over Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, the 27th seed, after 23 holes in the final.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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