Everything you need to know about the only match play event on the PGA Tour, the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play.
It's March, and March means brackets.
Keeping in line with the spirit of the calendar's third month, the PGA Tour shifts to a match play format this week at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas. The tournament used to have a single-elimination, NCAA tournament-style bracket but switched to its current format, which resembles that of soccer's World Cup, in 2015.
The top 16 seeds are placed into different groups before a random draw completes each group of four. The group play stage is a round robin, meaning every player plays every other player in the group once. The winner of each group progresses to the round of 16, and it's single elimination from that point on. If two players tie for the lead after the three rounds of group play, they play a sudden-death playoff to determine who advances.
The round of 16 and quarterfinals are played on the same day, as are the semifinals and championship match, so the winner of this event will have played seven rounds in five days. Quite the grind.
The defending champion
Dustin Johnson won as the number one seed last year in a dominating performance. He won 46 of the 112 holes he played over the course of the seven matches and was leading 94 percent of the time he played. In the final, he beat Jon Rahm on the 18th hole. It was his third straight victory on Tour and he became the first player to win each of the four World Golf Championships—Tiger Woods has won 18 WGCs overall and three of the four current ones, but he's never won the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.
It's a World Golf Championship, and World Golf Championships mean elite fields. Fifty-nine of the top 64 golfers in the world are set to tee it up—Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are opting to skip the event, while Brooks Koepka continues to recover from an injury with hopes of returning in time for Augusta.
Rory McIlroy, who won last week at Bay Hill with a sparkling final-round 64, is in the field. So is Phil Mickelson, who hasn't played since he won the WGC-Mexico Championship, and there's one more entrant who won his last start: Paul Casey, who edged Woods and Patrick Reed at the Valspar Championship.
Here are this year's groups, which were determined on Monday night. Tee times can be found here. SI.com's picks to advance are bolded.
Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger
Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas, (21) Francesco Molinari, (48) Patton Kizzire, (60) Luke List
Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley
Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel
Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama, (30) Patrick Cantlay, (46) Cameron Smith, (53) Yusaku Miyazato
Group 6: (6) Rory McIlroy, (18) Brian Harman, (44) Jhonattan Vegas, (51) Peter Uihlein
Group 7: (7) Sergio Garcia, (20) Xander Schauffele, (41) Dylan Frittelli, (62) Shubankhar Sharma
Group 8: (8) Jason Day, (25) Louis Oosthuizen, (42) Jason Dufner, (56) James Hahn
Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter
Group 10: (10) Paul Casey, (31) Matthew Fitzpatrick, (45) Kyle Stanley, (51) Russell Henley
Group 11: (11) Marc Leishman, (23) Branden Grace, (35) Bubba Watson, (64) Julian Suri
Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton, (22) Charley Hoffman, (36) Brendan Steele, (55) Alexander Levy
Group 13: (13) Alex Noren, (29) Tony Finau, (39) Thomas Pieters, (61) Kevin Na
Group 14: (14) Phil Mickelson, (17) Rafael Cabrera-Bello, (40) Sotashi Kodaira, (59) Charles Howell III
Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim
Group 16: (16) Matt Kuchar, (27) Ross Fisher, (47) Yuta Ikeda, (54) Zach Johnson
While there's no official yardage for this event, which gives officials flexibility in terms of set-up, Austin Country Club is one of the shorter courses on the Tour schedule. The course is set up for birdies galore, as the Tour does not have to worry about setting the course up for a respectable winning score. Additionally, match play is much more fun when birdies rather than pars win holes.
This event has moved around more than any of the other World Golf Championships. In its first two years of existence, 1999-2000, it was played at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California, before moving to Australia for a year and then back to Carlsbad for five more. Next up was a two-year stint at the Gallery Golf Club in Marana, Arizona, then a six-year go at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, also in Marana. After one year at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, the event moved to its current home, Austin CC.
Rory McIlroy +750
Dustin Johnson +850
Justin Thomas +1100
Jason Day +1200
Jon Rahm +1200
Jordan Spieth +1600
Paul Casey +2000
Phil Mickelson +2500
Sergio Garcia +2800
Patrick Reed +2800
Alexander Noren +3300
Tommy Fleetwood +3300
Hideki Matsuyama +3500
Tyrrell Hatton +3500
Marc Leishman +4500
Patrick Cantlay +4500
Bubba Watson +5000
Rafael Cabrera Bello +5000
Louis Oosthuizen +5000
Branden Grace +6000
No surprises here. Rory comes in as the favorite after his triumph at Bay Hill, followed by the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world in Johnson and Thomas.
Let's take a look at the recent winners of this event:
2017: Dustin Johnson
2016: Jason Day
2015: Rory McIlroy
2014: Jason Day
2013: Matt Kuchar
Day jumps out as someone who's had a ton of success in this format, and all of those guys besides Kuchar can hit it a country mile—which is an advantage in an event like this, which puts a premium on making birdies in bunches.
Patrick Reed followed up his t-2nd at the Valspar with a solid t-7th at Bay Hill, and we all know he's at his best in a match play format. Reed transforms into Captain America when representing the red, white and blue, and while there's no team aspect this week, Reed has the fiery competitiveness needed to excel in head-to-head. He'll likely have to beat Jordan Spieth on Friday to make it to the knockout rounds, but if he does, look for Reed to pick up his first win since The Barclays in 2016.
The opposite field event
Tony Romo makes his PGA Tour debut at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The event was a Web.com Tour stop for the past two seasons before receiving promotion to the PGA Tour for the 2018 season. John Daly, Angel Cabrera, Retief Goosen and Emiliano Grillo are also in the field.