The 64 highest-ranked golfers in the world that have made themselves available this week will line up for the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, which starts on Wednesday (March 27).
The tournament was first played in 1999, and this will be the fourth consecutive edition to be held at the Austin Country Club in Texas, a par 71 course that measures just over 7,000 yards. However, don’t let the shortness of the course trick you into thinking that this venue levels the playing field for short-hitters, as the three previous champions have been Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Bubba Watson.
The main reasons why Austin Country Club suits players that can hit it over 300 yards are the four par-5s that can easily be reached in two by the big-hitters, whilst there’s also a short par four that they’ll be able to reach off the tee. Indeed, the course offers many risk and reward holes that favour talented and in-form players that can turn those risks into the promised rewards.
The tournament kicks-off with a round robin group stage, with the top-16 seeds each heading one of the 16 groups consisting of four players. That means each player gets to play three matches, earning one point for a win and half a point for a draw. The player who wins the most matches progresses to the knockout stages. In the event of a tie, the results of the head-to-matches decide who progresses. If that’s not possible, the players play sudden-death holes until someone wins.
Most bookies are betting ¼ odds the first four places this week, which means you’ll collect the place part of your each-way bet if your pick reaches the semi-finals (Betfair and PaddyPower are the exception offering eight places).
The winners haven’t been too hard to find in the last three years, as all were big-hitting major winners. However, as there’s usually a surprise package in the latter stages, don’t be put off if you fancy backing a player each-way at a big price.
The beaten finalists so far have been Louis Oosthuizen, John Rahm, and Kevin Kisner, whilst the beaten semi-finalists have been Rafa Cabrero-Bello, Rory McIlroy, Bill Haas, Hideto Tanihara, Justin Thomas, and Alex Noren. That means no player has made it to the semi-finals more than once in the last three years. Admittedly, it’s a small sample, but it still highlights how difficult it is to predict these match play events.
Group 1 sees Dustin Johnson take on three out-of-sorts players in Matsuyama, Grace, and Revie and it will be a shock if the world number one doesn’t progress.
Group 2 looks trickier, with Justin Rose returning after giving the last two editions a miss. Meanwhile, Gary Woodland and Emiliano Grillo haven’t played well here before, whilst the ever-improving Eddie Pepperrell hasn’t played here at all.
Brooks Koepka looks the pick in Group 3, as he won his groups in 2016 and 2017. Last year’s semi-finalist Alex Noren also looks out of form, whilst Haotong Li lost all three group games last year, and Tom Lewis makes his debut.
Group 4 should be easy pickings for an in-form Rory McIlroy, as Justin Harding makes his debut and Luke List lost all three matches last year. Matt Fitzpatrick looks a potential danger but lacks length off the tee.
Group 5 looks a tough call with Justin Thomas an obvious favourite. However, Keegan Bradley and Matt Wallace both have the sort of games that could make them tough to beat after posting some low rounds lately.
Bryson DeChambeau is favourite to progress from Group 6, but Mark Leishman is no pushover. However, it could be worth chancing Kiradech Aphibarnrat as he has an excellent match play record in Europe and he made the quarter-finals here last year.
Group 7 comprises Molinari, Simpson, Olesen, and Kodaira, a quartet who have no worthwhile form in the event. Molinari could be the new master of match play after last year’s Ryder Cup exploits, but I wouldn’t bet on it at this different course.
Group 8 is also trappy, with Rahm having made the final in 2017 but losing all three group games last year. He also faces three capable opponents in Kuchar, Holmes, and Kim, and Rahm is not a certainty.
Give group 9 a miss as Schauffele, Cabrero-Bello, and Hatton have all won groups in the last three years, whilst a resurgent Westwood can’t be discounted either.
Casey will be the favourite in Group 10 after last week’s win, but Howell III has won his group in both the last two years. However, preference is for Cameron Smith, whose short game usually makes him tough to beat.
Group 11 includes three past quarter-finalists in Fleetwood, Stanley, and Oosthuizen which makes it a tough call.
Group 12 is headed by 2016 champion Jason Day, but he faces three serious challengers in Mickelson, Stenson, and the resurgent Jim Furyk.
Tiger Woods heads group 13 but this his first visit to Austin Country Club. He faces hot-putter Snedeker and debutant Aaron Wise but may have most to fear from Patrick Cantlay.
Group 14 features three group winners from last year in Finau, Poulter, and Kisner, whilst debutant Keith Mitchell is red-hot at the moment.
Group 15 features defending champion Bubba Watson, but he’s not playing as well as he was at this time last year. Spieth and Na are also struggling for form, so Bill Horschel could surprise.
Ryder Cup rivals Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia headline group 16, whilst the presence of Shane Lowry makes this a tough battle between three short game experts.
WGC Match Play Picks
Brooks Koepka, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Cameron Smith, and Patrick Cantlay are my four against the field. All have shown form here in the past but have yet to reach the semi-finals. They’re also young enough to play seven matches in five days.