Golf must speed up to attract new fans - and a 54-hole cut can help

Tommy Fleetwood
Protracted golf rulings often cause delays to already lengthy rounds

Watching Tommy Fleetwood smashing a three-wood to the home green, imploring it to reach its distant target to help him clinch a prestigious title, was outstanding sporting theatre.

Here was a 26-year-old English star confirming his golfing renaissance by seizing the moment in champion style. He held off major winners Dustin Johnson and Martin Kaymer and it was stirring stuff.

Fleetwood's victory in the Abu Dhabi Championship also emphasised his place among the burgeoning talent pool populating the British golfing scene. It came seven days after Graeme Storm had beaten Rory McIlroy to the South African Open title.

But it was a long time in coming and with football, cricket, tennis, snooker and skiing all competing for your sporting attention on Sunday, you could be forgiven for switching away long before this exciting conclusion occurred.

The golfers were not especially slow but grouping them in three-balls, rather than the usual pairings of two, meant the weekend's twists and turns took an age to develop.

Sunday's champion chipped in for eagle on the 10th hole to leap into what should have been an absorbing title battle. However it was more than two full hours, during which the Southport star hit only 28 more shots, before the killer blow was administered.

And even then we had to wait for the final trio, Dustin Johnson, Pablo Larrazabal and Tyrrell Hatton, to complete their rounds - another quarter of an hour or so - before Fleetwood could, at last, be crowned champion.

All week in Abu Dhabi, the talk was of growing the game and attracting more fans. We had music on the range and on the final day more tunes were played to accompany the players' walk to the first tee.

Stewards clapped together their wooden "quiet please" signs (oh, the irony) to try to generate more atmosphere, but with limited success. It wasn't, thankfully, the sort of entrance you would see at the Lakeside darts.

Nevertheless it was a refreshing start and the organisers should be applauded for making the effort to give the pro game a bit of a showbiz feel, make it less stuffy and more welcoming. After all, we have been calling for such thinking for long enough.

Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi
The galleries in Abu Dhabi featured a large number of British ex-pats

Then, however, it all reverted to type. Spectators were put in their place with a warning, announced from the first tee, to put away cameras and phones before the formal introduction of the players.

All these announcements were made in English, which does little for game growing in Abu Dhabi. Let's not kid ourselves, these desert tournaments are purely the preserve of the ex-pat communities in the Middle East.

And for the worldwide television audience, there was then a five-hour wait from the moment the final group teed off until the tournament was decided. That's a sizeable chunk of anyone's weekend.

The decision to play in threes was made because 73 players made the cut and this was the only way to get them all round in the available daylight with a one-tee start.

Logistics determined the timetable, but when so many players make the cut (the leading 65 and ties qualify for the third round) it becomes too unwieldy.

Secondary cuts at the 54-hole stage are employed in some events but they should become standard practice whenever the only alternative is playing three-balls on the marquee final day.

As all of the other modernising initiatives try to demonstrate, pro golf is showbiz. The sport itself, surely, has to reflect the fact by being engaging and watchable.

So there should be a second cut on a Saturday evening. It would inject more interest to the penultimate day and would leave only genuine contenders competing in the closing round.

It is unlikely to happen though. The golfers are likely to object to anything that makes tournaments more cut-throat and, don't forget, the tours are run for the benefit of the players, their members.

But the bigger picture - which is the small one that fills television screens - suggests there should be no room for petty self-interest and that something needs to happen.

After all, what should have been a thrilling weekend was slow and stodgy and not the spectacle it deserved to be.

Only the die-hards, who stuck with it all the way, could genuinely appreciate Fleetwood's brilliant win and that cannot be right when trying to popularise golf is such a priority.