The PGA Tour does its best rendition of March Madness this week, as 48 of the world's top 50 players are in Austin for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, which begins Wednesday.
There is one notable difference between this, the only match-play event on the Tour calendar, and the NCAA tournament: this isn't a true single-elimination bracket. Instead, the format more closely resembles the World Cup. The field of 64 is divided into 16 groups of four players, and each player in the group plays the other three players (so each player is guaranteed at least three rounds of golf). After those group stage matches, the player with the best record advances to the round of 16, where a single-elimination bracket begins. The round of 16 and the quarters are on Saturday, while the semis and finals are on Sunday. That means the champion this week will play seven rounds over five days.
This is the third of four World Golf Championships this season, and it also doubles as the last start before Augusta for many of the world's best players. One of the guys making final Augusta preparations is Tiger Woods, who returns to an event he's won three times. This will, however, mark the first time that Woods plays the match play at Austin Country Club.
The vast majority of the game's biggest stars are competing this week and viewers get a nice change-of-pace from the decidedly non-conforntational stroke play format they see every week. This is always a fun one.
Here's everything you need to know.
Austin CC is a 1984 design by famed architect Pete Dye, the same guy behind TPC Sawgrass and Hilton Head.
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. While tricky, the course is set up for birdies galore—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, in 2016.
The only players ranked inside the top 50 in the world rankings who are not playing this week are Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott. Those two aside, every single one of the game's biggest stars is giving it a go: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele, Jason Day, Tony Finau, Francesco Molinari...you get the picture. Paul Casey is back in action a week after winning the Valspar and reaching world No. 11. Jordan Spieth is back in his college town, still desperately searching for a turnaround before the major season begins. Bubba Watson is back to defend his title, and he raised some eyebrows this week by saying he thinks the match-play event should be cancelled. Fowler, Scott and Sungjae Im's decisions to sit out this week allowed three players ranked outside the top 64 to get in: Lee Westwood, Satoshi Kodaira and Luke List.
Here are this year's groups, which were determined on Monday night. SI.com's picks to advance are bolded.
Group 1: Dustin Johnson (1), Hideki Matsuyama (24), Branden Grace (40), Chez Reavie (55)
Group 2: Justin Rose (2), Gary Woodland (22), Eddie Pepperell (34), Emiliano Grillo (53)
Group 3: Brooks Koepka (3), Alex Noren (27), Haotong Li (36), Tom Lewis (60)
Group 4: Rory McIlroy (4), Matthew Fitzpatrick (32), Justin Harding (47), Luke List (64)
Group 5: Justin Thomas (5), Keegan Bradley (31), Matt Wallace (33), Lucas Bjerregaard (50)
Group 6: Bryson DeChambeau (6), Marc Leishman (17), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (39), Russell Knox (59)
Group 7: Francesco Molinari (7), Webb Simpson (21), Thorbjorn Olesen (45), Satoshi Kodaira (63)
Group 8: Jon Rahm (8), Matt Kuchar (23), J.B. Holmes (43), Si Woo Kim (54)
Group 9: Xander Schauffele (9), Rafa Cabrera Bello (29), Tyrell Hatton (35), Lee Westwood (62)
Group 10: Paul Casey (10), Cameron Smith (25), Charles Howell III (42), Abraham Ancer (58)
Group 11: Tommy Fleetwood (11), Louis Oosthuizen (19), Kyle Stanley (41), Byeong Hun An (49)
Group 12: Jason Day (12), Phil Mickelson (20), Henrik Stenson (37), Jim Furyk (52)
Group 13: Tiger Woods (13), Patrick Cantlay (18), Brandt Snedeker (44), Aaron Wise (61)
Group 14: Tony Finau (14), Ian Poulter (30), Kevin Kisner (48), Keith Mitchell (56)
Group 15: Bubba Watson (15), Jordan Spieth (28), Billy Horschel (38), Kevin Na (57)
Group 16: Patrick Reed (16), Sergio Garcia (26), Shane Lowry (46), Andrew Putnam (51)
Only the first-round tee times are currently available. Here are some notable face-offs. A full list of tee times can be found here. All times EDT.
11:15 a.m. - Ian Poulter vs. Kevin Kisner
12:43 p.m. - Jordan Spieth vs. Billy Horschel
1:27 p.m. - Phil Mickelson vs. Henrik Stenson
2:00 p.m. - Tiger Woods vs. Aaron Wise
2:22 p.m. - Rory McIlroy vs. Luke List
3:50 p.m. - Dustin Johnson vs. Chez Reavie
All times EDT.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday — 2 p.m.-8 p.m. on Golf Channel
Saturday — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Golf Channel, 2 p.m.-6 p.m. on NBC
Sunday — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Golf Channel, 3 p.m.-7 p.m. on NBC
2018 — Bubba Watson
2017 — Dustin Johnson
2016 — Jason Day
2015 — Rory McIlroy
2014 — Jason Day
2013 — Matt Kuchar
2012 — Hunter Mahan
2011 — Luke Donald
2010 — Ian Poulter
Rory McIloy +1000
Dustin Johnson +1000
Justin Thomas +1400
Jon Rahm +1800
Justin Rose +2000
Tommy Fleetwood +2000
Jason Day +2000
Brooks Koepka +2000
Bryson DeChambeau +2000
Tiger Woods +2500
Paul Casey +2500
Francesco Molinari +2500
Bubba Watson +3000
Xander Schauffele +3000
Tony Finau +3000
Ian Poulter +3000
Patrick Reed +4000
Hideki Matsuyama +4000
Sergio Garcia +4000
Louis Oosthuizen +4000
Matt Kuchar +4000
Marc Leishman +4000
Three guys jump off the page this week: Jon Rahm (+1800), Francesco Molinari (+2500) and Marc Leishman (+4000). Rahm is a fiery competitor—we saw the latest evidence of this at TPC Sawgrass, where he yelled at his caddie after hitting a ball into the water—and his game is right where it needs to be. That bodes well for match play. Molinari put forth the greatest Ryder Cup performance in history in September, so he's obviously comfortable in the match play format, and he just makes so few mistakes. That keeps the pressure on the opponent, which is crucial this week. Leishman is more of a feel pick, but I quite like him to get out of his group (Dechambeau, Aphibarnrat and Knox) and that's half the battle this week.