It’s grueling. It’s volatile. It’s the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club and there will be chaos. Inside this match play vortex, playing an opponent’s personality is just as important as playing the opponent himself. Some players will dig under the skin of their opponents. Others will try to grind down their adversaries with consistent play. A few more will just be flat out ruthless. Here are five things you need to know as the PGA Tour returns to Austin for the annual dogfight that is WGC Match Play.
Match Play Format
Players in this 64-man field are seeded according to their position in the OWGR and placed into four pools of 16 players. (Pool A: 1-16; Pool B 17-32; Pool C: 33-48; and Pool D: 49-64). The top 16 ranked players headline one of 16 groups with a random draw filling out the other three spots. Each group plays round-robin matches Wednesday through Friday, with the winners advancing to single elimination brackets on the weekend. The round of 16 and quarterfinals are then played on Saturday, and the semi-finals and finals are played on Sunday.
Inside the Field
On Monday night the ping pong balls did their dance and spit out some compelling groups (player seeds are in parenthesis). Dustin Johnson (1) will tangle with fellow 2017 Presidents Cup teammate Kevin Kisner (32) in Group 1. Luke List (60) will get a chance at redemption for his playoff loss to Justin Thomas (2) at The Honda Classic in Group 2. Ryder Cup teammates Jordan Spieth (4) and Patrick Reed (19) will be foes in Group 4. If there’s a “group of death” in this tournament it’s Group 6 – simply because it means you’ll have to knock out Rory McIlroy (6). In Group 9 Tommy Fleetwood (9) failed to get out of group play last year and will have to contend with match play ninja Ian Poulter (58). Here’s a full look at the entire bracket.
Last year McIlroy was knocked out of WGC Match Play without even hitting a shot on Thursday, and his 2017 misfortune was just getting started. Fast forward to last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Rory’s stats read like a fantasy draft dream team: first in Driving Distance, Proximity to Hole, Scrambling, and Strokes Gained: Putting. McIlroy’s confidence is sky-high, and his cold-blooded streak makes him a great match play golfer. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see if McIlroy reverts to the form that led to two missed cuts in four events to start the season, or if his brilliance at Bay Hill carries over this week. If it’s the later, pre-Masters anticipation will reach a fevered pitch.
A Perfect Track for Match Play
Hole 13 at WGC-Dell Tech
Austin Country Club is hosting for the third consecutive year, and risk-reward shots throughout this Pete Dye-designed, 7,108 yard, par-71 layout make for great match play drama. All of the par-5s are reachable in two, but also feature dangers that can put a player on an early plane home. The 535-yard,12th hole has a river running down the final 150 yards on the left side, up to and beyond the green. Players who take on No.12 and hit their second shots wide of the Iron Bridge will likely find a watery grave. No. 13 is the shortest par-4 on the course at only 317 yards and will tempt players to reach in one. Holding the green with driver is almost impossible, however, and with water in front of the green and all along the left side, circling in from the right is a formidable challenge. The par-3s range from 145 yards to 198 yards and all have safe shots to the middle of the greens. With dye-abolical pins tucked in front of water, bunkers, and ravines, fortune will favor the bold.
Filling out Your Bracket
Higher ranked players have a better chance of reaching the round of 16 by allowing them to exploit their talent advantage over three matches instead of one. It’s still match play, which means players you’ve never heard of will win, and others coming in hot will lose. Anything can happen, and the most difficult place to pick winners is in the first round. Theoretically, the scrappy grinder who gets up and down from everywhere can win without prodigious length. Four of the last five winners however, have been mashers off the tee, and seven of the last 10 weren’t American. How a player’s psyche holds up in this format is also important. Win, lose, or draw, players are under Sunday pressure on every hole.
Jason Day pulled out after six holes last year to be with his mom who was battling lung cancer, but in his six previous appearances here Day has two wins and two other top-10 finishes. Jason comes in riding a long-awaited wave of momentum with five top-25 finishes in five starts this year, and his victory at Torrey Pines ended a 19 month winless streak. With injuries and family tragedy behind him, Day is starting to again look like the player whose last run as World No.1 lasted 47 weeks. With marquee players like DJ, Thomas, Spieth, and Rory in the field, Day has an opportunity to make a statement this week. Look for a duel at high noon on Sunday between Day and McIlroy, with Jason the last man standing.