With just two weeks remaining until the Masters, most of the best players in the world will go head-to-head this week at Austin Country Club in Texas at the World Golf Championships-Match Play.
Not a bad time of the year for brackets and a field of 64, right? The World Golf Championships-Match Play gets underway Wednesday and very similar to March Madness, the Top 64 golfers in the world (with five exceptions) will compete in a survive-and-advance tournament with the winner being crowned this Sunday.
With the Masters just two weeks away, four of the top names in golf, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, have decided to skip the Match Play. So has Adam Hadwin, who won two weeks ago on Tour but is getting married. This scheduling is certainly an issue and you can bet the PGA Tour will make an adjustment when able to prior to the 2019 season.
After being held at a handful of different locations for more than a decade, for the second straight year the Match Play returns to Austin Country Club in Texas. Match play is not common on any of the world golf tours, but it is a very exciting format that we do get to enjoy every year with the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. For this event, the players are seeded in four groups with 16 golfers positioned in each group and further broken down into four four-man pools within each. The four in a pool play one match against each of the other members of the group over the first three days of the tournament. The player emerging with the most points in the pool advances into the Round of 16. From there, the tournament becomes single elimination. The Round of 16 and quarterfinals are Saturday and the semifinals and final on Sunday.
The course is relatively short at around 7,100 yards. It is a par 71 Pete Dye design. Every par 5 is reachable in two shots, and there is one driveable par 4. The fairways are somewhat narrow, bordered by trees and the river that runs throughout the course. The Bermuda Grass greens, overseeded with Bent, feature undulation, and the bunkers are fairly deep. It all adds up to a course that has a great deal of risk-reward scenarios, which is super for a match-play format.
Different from a stroke-play event, where the players are playing one tournament over the course of four days, the Match Play offers a number of betting opportunities with new individual matchups every day and even within the same day. It is as if there are head-to-head tournaments going on between two players throughout, making for a very exciting watch from day to day, hole to hole, and shot to shot.
Rory McIlroy (+792 Pinnacle): As the Match Play defending champion in 2016, McIlroy was beaten by eventual champion Jason Day in a semifinal match. I would be surprised if McIlroy does not make it at least that far again this year as he is excellent in match play and has been playing extremely well as of late with a 7th in Mexico and a 4th last week at Bay Hill.
Dustin Johnson (+1018 Pinnacle): Match play is not the world No. 1s specialty despite a 3-0 mark in Ryder Cup singles competition. Johnson is definitely a bomber and this is not necessarily a bombers course, but his putting and scrambling have improved tremendously in the last year.
Jordan Spieth (+1039 Pinnacle): The Texas native has played this golf course quite a bit as a former star at the University of Texas, and that advantage showed last year when he easily advanced into the Round of 16. He leads the PGA Tour in Greens in Regulation but is 0-2 in Ryder Cup singles play.
Jason Day (+1636 Pinnacle): Day is the defending champion and also won two years prior at Dove Mountain in Arizona. His battles with illness and injury remain a concern and this is a lot of golf to play this week with at least seven rounds to be logged by the eventual finalists.
Patrick Reed (+3754 Bookmaker): Reed's game has been pretty shaky in 2017, but he has shown in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup play that he is a match-play stalwart. His putting is still excellent, but his scrambling has dipped significantly.
Paul Casey (+3400 5Dimes): Casey is another magic match-play player with an overall record of 20-12-1 at WGC Match Play events and two second-place finishes. He's in good form, too, with five Top-25 finishes on Tour this season.
The Long Shots
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (+6000 5Dimes): Cabrera-Bello has been playing very well this season, is 6-3-1 overall at the WGC Match Play, finishing 3rd here last year in his debut, and is a perfect 1-0 in Ryder Cup singles competition.
Gary Woodland (+6674 Pinnacle): Woodland finished 2nd to McIlroy in 2015 when this event was held at Harding Park in San Francisco. Woodland is playing excellent golf this season with four Top-10 finishes since November.
Ryan Moore (+8500 5Dimes): Moore was the hero for the United States at the Ryder Cup last fall, winning his match on Sunday to clinch the Cup for the U.S. side. He's batting about .500 at this event overall but likes the new venue, finishing 5th in Austin last year.
Tyrrell Hatton (+3002 Bookmaker): The Englishman has been on fire since winning the Dunhill Links in October. This will be his first-ever WGC Match Play appearance, but he has not finished worse than 13th in his last six starts worldwide. He comes in off of three straight Top-10s on the PGA Tour and leads it in Strokes Gained Putting. When it comes to match play, I like a strong short game, and Hatton currently owns one of the best in the world.