Wade Dunagan would love to see Tiger Woods, the best golfer of his generation, perform at next week’s World Golf Championships – Accenture Match Play championship at Marana’s sparkling Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
Dunagan, the tournament’s executive director, has no control over Woods’ presence. Tiger, the world’s top-ranked player, recovering from knee surgery, has until 3 p.m. Friday to commit.
A Tiger appearance is “speculative at best,” Dunagan said Monday evening. “We’re still anxiously awaiting, and very hopeful.”
Dunagan is more than a golfer, more than a tournament director. He’s a fan, too.
“We just want him to get back and play,” whether it’s in Marana, or elsewhere.
Tiger or no Tiger, the 64 players who compete on Dove Mountain next week will arguably comprise “the best field in all of golf, player for player,” Dunagan said.
Match play’s appeal – the format, the $8.5 million purse, the prestige of a true world championship – are likely factors in the attendance. “Some of the players really enjoy the change of pace,” Dunagan said. “Instead of a stroke play event, it’s one on one, head to head in match play.”
The top 64 are invited. Some may decline due to injury, family commitment or another reason. When a golfer declines to play, the next ranked golfer is invited, and so on. Dunagan understands that “#65 always gets in, but #67 has never gotten in.”
In this week’s world ranking, seven countries were represented among the planet’s top 10 players. More than 20 countries have golfers in the top 64. Because match play is a world golf championship, “people have an opportunity to see players who don’t always play on the PGA Tour.”
He suggests people watch … everyone, something they can do more readily at the new Jack Nicklaus Signature golf layouts.
“A lot of people would enjoy following what I call the youth movement,” with players like American Anthony Kim and Colombian Camilo Villegas, or Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who won in Dubai.
“There are a number of young, up-and-coming players that are really doing very, very well,” he said.
Then there are “the tried and true players,” people like South African Ernie Els and American Davis Love III, or crowd favorites like Fiji’s Vijay Singh and Australian Geoff Ogilvy, the latter “who’s done very well in match play.
“Fans would gain a new appreciation for them, being able to come and watch them up close like you can at our event,” he said.
Don’t forget the former Arizona Wildcats, Rory Sabattini and Jim Furyk, who are “certainly fan favorites here in the Southwest, along with Phil Mickelson.”
Several pros have been to the Ritz-Carlton for practice. England’s Paul Casey and Ogilvy were on hand the other day. Villegas and Canadian lefty Mike Weir have played, as has Australian Aaron Baddeley. Dunagan looks forward to player comments about the new course.
“Anytime you go to a new facility, and are asked to play on a different venue, a different golf course, certainly some courses are more to people’s liking than others,” he said.
“It’s a pretty stern test of golf for them. It’s not going to lay down at all. If we get wind, it can play very difficult. Remember these are the best players in the world, and if they’re on their game there isn’t much that gives them trouble.”
Opponents can give them trouble. “To advance, with the ‘win or go home’ attitude they need to have coming in,” match play “lends itself to perhaps more aggressive shot-making.” In stroke play, golfers might choose safety over risk. In match play, “it’s more of a sprint than a distant race. That’s a reason the players like it. It’s a change.”
Dunagan and tournament organizers are “very, very pleased with the enthusiasm of people in Tucson, Marana and Southern Arizona. The economy’s been difficult, but the enthusiasm remains.”
He’s hopeful the tournament can come within 10 percent of the $1.4 million in charitable donations assembled by the Tucson Conquistadores last year.
“We’re gauging success perhaps a little bit differently” in 2009, he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about charity.”
One week before practice rounds begin, preparations are “tracking very smoothly,” Dunagan said. “We’ve got a lot of things in motion. We’re watching closely, to make sure they don’t head off in the wrong direction.”
Dunagan has “lots of help,” in particular from two key people, operations manager Steven Nutt and tournament services specialist Kaitlyn Doe. “They’re absolutely wonderful,” he said. “They keep me on the straight and narrow.”
Even the weather looks good. Dunagan has examined the 10-day forecast. It includes temperatures “with 8s in them, which I’m very happy with. Southern Arizona’s tough to beat this time of year.”