It’s time for March Madness…PGA Tour style, as the tour takes a break from traditional stroke play and heads to Austin for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
The annual bracket of 64 will once again converge on Austin Country Club where a year ago Bubba Watson disposed of Kevin Kisner (7&6) in the match play final. 64 of the top 66 players in the OWGR are set to compete over five days in Texas, including former Match Play champions Tiger Woods (2003, 2004, 2008), Jason Day (2014, 2016), Rory Mcilroy (2015) and Dustin Johnson (2017).
The top 16 seeds in the tournament are decided by the Official World Rankings, with the remaining 48 players, placed in the 16 different groups. Golfers will square off against each of the 3 players in their pool in a round robin format from Wednesday- Friday. The winner of each group will advance to the single elimination format over the weekend.
The previous three Match Play winners (Watson, DJ, Day) consistently have an advantage over the field off the tee. SG off the Tee as well as Driving Distance will be useful stats to keep an eye on.
Windy and dry Texas conditions will also favor the longer hitters, as ACC could play similar to British Open-like course conditions. This could favor the European players, who are coming into the event scorching hot, having won the last three stoke play events on the PGA Tour (Molinari-API, Mcilroy-The Players, Casey-Valspar).
Nuts and bolts
Course: Austin Country Club (7,108 yards, Par 71)
Defending Champ: Bubba Watson (7&6 over Kevin Kisner)
Weather Forecast: Partly cloudy highs in the low to mid 70’s
Justin Thomas (14/1, $11,000)
(Group 5 with Keegan Bradley, Matt Wallace and Lucas Bjerrgaard)
Rested and ready, Thomas enters the week in search of his first win of the season. JT has played well overall, racking up three consecutive top 10s before a pair of disappointing finishes at the Honda and Players. After a week off, Thomas returns to ACC and the match play format he has thrived in. He swept his way through the group stage at the WGC Match play a year ago and ran off two more wins before eventually finishing fourth. JT has won six of his last eight individual matches worldwide, which includes a 1 up victory over Rory Mcilroy at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Jon Rahm (16/1, $10,600)
(Group 8 with Matt Kuchar, JB Holmes and Si Woo Kim)
The fiery Spaniard has had a week to cool off following his meltdown at the Players and returns not only to a course that suits him, but a format he can dominate. Rahm is long off the tee and won’t hesitate to flex his muscle on risk/reward holes with the driver. He ranks second on tour in SG off the tee, which measures a players performance on all par 4s and par 5s. Despite a disappointing 2018 WGC Match play, Rahm has played well in the head-to-head format. He reeled off six straight wins before losing in the final to Dustin Johnson in 2017 and was a 2&1 winner over Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup in France.
Alex Noren (80/1, $7,000)
(Group 3 with Brooks Koepka, Hao Tong Li and Tom Lewis)
Sometimes a change of scenery is all a player needs to get going. For Noren, that scenery comes in the form of a format change. The Swede is coming off back-to-back MC’s, BUT…match play is simply his thing, where he’s compiled an 18-6 record in singles play over his career. Using his driver to his advantage (18th in driving distance) Noren made his way through the group stage in each of the last two years, losing in the quarterfinals in 2017, and finishing third in 2018. He’s 10-2 in matches at ACC and also defeated Bryson Dechambeau 1 up in Paris back in September.
Abraham Ancer (100/1, $6,400)
(Group 10 with Paul Casey, Cameron Smith and Charles Howell III)
This will mark the first WGC Match Play appearance for the World’s 61st ranked golfer and the format should suit him well. Ancer is an exceptional driver, ranking 23rd in SG off the Tee and 19th in Driving Accuracy, and his draw in Group 10 should be favorable. Paul Casey is excellent in match play, but Casey is coming off a win at the Valspar and has a short turn around for his match vs. Anser on Wednesday. Anser is rested following his T-12 at The Players and spent a chunk of his off week practicing at Austin Country Club in preparation for the WGC Match Play.
Jordan Spieth (50/1, $8,700)
(Group 15 with Bubba Watson, Billy Horschel and Kevin Na)
Though the odds and fantasy costs are tempting for a multiple major winner, Spieth’s recent form and match play history are major red flags. The former Texas Longhorn failed to make it out of the group stage in 2018 and has won just three of his last 10 singles matches worldwide, which includes losses to Thorbjorn Olesen (5&4 Ryder Cup) and Jhonattan Vegas (2&1 Presidents Cup). Spieth’s putter may be coming around in time for the Masters, but his driver has been an issue as he ranks 204th on tour in SG off the Tee.