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Match Play Championship moves to Tucson until 2010

The Match Play Championship is moving to the Arizona city that golf left behind eight years ago with an announcement Sunday that Tucson will be home to this World Golf Championship through at least 2010.

The tournament will be played at The Gallery Golf Club on the outskirts of Tucson.

It features the top 64 players in the world, the kind of field Tucson hasn't seen since the World Golf Championships were created in 1999 and reduced that longtime PGA Tour stop to an opposite-field event.

"Tucson has a long and rich history of staging PGA Tour events going back several decades, and we're thrilled that the sports fans in that region of the country will have an opportunity to see this world-class competition," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.

The Accenture Match Play Championship had been held at La Costa Resort every year but one since 1999, and the move means the end of elite golf at La Costa since it first held the Tournament of Champions in 1969.

Finchem cited weather and another strong tournament in San Diego County -- the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, which traditionally gets one of the strongest fields all year -- as reasons for the move.

The course became known as "Lake La Costa" because it only took a little rain for small rivers to run through the fairways. Perhaps it was only fitting that this year's event has been graced with sunshine all week.

For Tucson, it was an amazing turnaround.

Chrysler didn't renew as title sponsor, and there were fears it would go away under the PGA Tour's new, tighter schedule starting in 2007. Instead, it got a World Golf Championship that is broadcast around the world.

"We go through paranoia every four years," said Tom Arnold, president of the Tucson Conquistadors, the civic group that runs the PGA Tour event. "You don't know what's going to happen, who the sponsor is going to be. There are plenty of events on the tour that are going away. We didn't want to be one of them.

"This is going to be a home run for us."

The format won't be entirely new for Tucson. Match play slowly vanished from golf's landscape in 1958 when the PGA Championship changed to stroke play, although the PGA Tour experimented with it for two years in Tucson in 1984 and 1985.

But it will be the first time in Tucson for players like Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. And it will be a return for Phil Mickelson, who won Tucson as an amateur in 1991 and as a pro in 1995.

"This is definitely one of the tournaments that I wasn't happy it became an opposite event," Jerry Kelly said. "I'm really happy the Match Play is going to be here so we can come back."

The tournament will be held on the South Course at The Gallery, designed by John Fought.

The move means the three WGC events on the 2007 schedule that count toward official money all will be played in the United States. It isn't the first time that has happened, although they are locked in for four years at Tucson, Miami and Firestone in Ohio.

Finchem offered no apologies, saying they were more financially viable in the United States.

"They're staged at a level that can pay for worldwide television," he said. "They're staged at a level that can pay significant prize money. That costs money. The American marketplace is best suited to generate those kind of resources. I think that's why, historically, three of the four major championships are in the United States."

The Accenture Match Play Championship ventured overseas once in eight years, going to Australia in 2001. While the golf course (Metropolitan) was arguably the best of any WGC event, hardly any of the top players went Down Under so close to the holidays, and the tour had to go to No. 104 in the world rankings to fill the field.

March 2, 2006


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