It’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play week. That’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it? Anyway, a field of 64 players will be switching it up, playing match-play as opposed to stroke-play this week, for the second WGC not only of 2017, but this month.
There are some notable absentees this week, as Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose miss the trip, whilst Valspar Championship, Adam Hadwin also has the smaller matter of his wedding to attend. This will be the second year in a row that World No.5, Stenson has decided against this event, as he presumably opts for a different approach to his preparation for Augusta.
Coming into the field to replace those missing are, Jason Dufner, K.T. Kim, Joost Luiten, Pat Perez and Si Woo Kim.
Last five winners of the WGC Match-Play
2016 – Jason Day
2015 – Rory McIlroy
2014 – Jason Day
2013 – Matt Kuchar
2012 – Hunter Mahan
Austin Country Club, Par 71, 7,108 yards
This Pete Dye design impressed on debut last year, and it is back for the second of its three-year deal with the event.
Whilst Austin Country Club is thought to be the oldest golf club in Texas, it has re-located twice before settling on this its current location, which offers a really unique test. The front nine is on high ground, whilst the back nine runs much lower, along Lake Austin. Whilst the front and back nine differ at all courses, it’s very rare that a course has such a different feel.
Re-cap of 2016 and what it takes to win at Austin CC
It is not easy to tell what sole type of player this course suits as we only have one year of form to go by, but given the course stretches just over 7,100 yards and has fairly generous fairways in relation to its length, it is fair to say players will be given a license to bomb it off the tee.
Jason Day, who won last year and Rory McIlroy who made the semi-final are both well known for bombing it off the tee, whilst the other two who made the final four, Louis Oosthuzien and Rafa Cabrera-Bello are certainly no slouches off the tee.
With four reachable par-5’s as well the driveable par-4 9th, it certainly looks advantageous to be both long off the tee and/or good with your long irons this week.
To counter the distance argument, both Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson won their groups, with Johnson going perfect (3-0). They did however both fall in the round of 16, beaten well by Jason Day and Rory McIlroy respectively. Both players can count themselves unlucky to run into Day and McIlroy but to have won the matches they did (5 between them) they must have been more than comfortable with the course.
The format itself remains the same as last year, in the hope of ensuring the best players stick around all week. Setting it up so each player is involved in three matches before the knock-out stages has been done purposely to avoid too many superstars going out on the first day due to one bad round.
Exactly 50% of the top-16 seeds won their group and progressed the round of 16, with only Rickie Fowler failing to win a match (halved 2, lost 1). Fowler was subsequently the only top-16 seeded player to finish bottom of his respective group, which may possibly be why we are not seeing the 2017 Honda Classic winner this time around.
To have any chance of winning this event, two matches (at least 36-holes) will have to be played on both Saturday and Sunday, which may be too much for any player suffering from fatigue, be it through age or injury.
I am going to release one bet before the draw is made and then add my other picks here on Tuesday, after that draw is made, late Monday night.
Ross Fisher 150/1 (Ladbrokes) 1pt e/w:
Fisher has a pretty good overall match-play record, and after his 3rd at the WGC-Mexico event earlier this month, has a pretty strong recent record in WGC events in general. With this 3rd two weeks ago, Fisher has now finished top-5 in three of the four WGC events, the Bridgestone being the only one he has failed to crack so far.
In the last two years he has played in both the WGC-Cadillac/Mexico Championship and the WGC – HSBC Champions and finished 42nd and 3rd in the former and T3 and T6 in the latter. This is a good set of form in these events, given the strength of the field at both and provides confidence ahead of this week, as he makes his first return to this event since 2011.
Fisher has played in and been on the winning side of, two Seve Trophy’s (2009 & 2011), one EurAsia Cup (2016) and one Ryder Cup (2010). Fisher won 2 out of 4 points in 2009 and 2 ½ out of 4 points in 2011 at the Seve Trophy and 2 out of 4 points in the 2010 Ryder Cup. It was at the 2016 EurAsia Cup though, where he put in his best performance, going unbeaten and securing 2 ½ out of a possible 3 points available. The Asian team failed to put up much of a fight that week, with Europe winning by a comprehensive 13 points.
Add to Fisher’s success as part of a team, his previous success as individual in match-play and he looks a solid pick this week.
Fisher won the 2009 Volvo World Matchplay, beating Anthony Kim 4&3 in the final. Fisher won two of his three group ties, beating Camilo Villegas and Jeev Milkha Singh, whilst losing 2DN to Lee Westwood. After progressing from the group, Fisher beat Angel Cabrera after 39 holes (the semi-final and final of this event were both played over 36-holes) before taking down Kim in the final.
The win at the 2009 Volvo Matchplay came months after his best finish in this event, where he finished 4th. Fisher was knocked out in the semi-finals by fellow Englishman, Paul Casey who went on to lose the final to Geoff Ogilvy. After being knocked out of the semis, Fisher also lost out to Stewart Cink in the 3rd/4th place play-off but this is one loss I would almost scrub off anyone’s record. After losing out in the semi-final, no one really puts their all into finishing 3rd or 4th in this event.
Although he has never been on the losing side of a team match-play event, his record as an individual is hit and miss. In 21 singles matches, Fisher is 10-9-2, with 8 of those 10 wins coming in 2009. Since then he has played in 10 matches, losing 6 and winning just 2. This is obviously a worry and would explain why he is three-figures this week, along with the fact he may face a very tough draw.
He has only played one singles match since 2011, which he halved with Jeung-hun Wang at last year’s EurAsia cup, so a good run this week could make his singles record look very solid once again.
Given the way he played in Mexico two weeks ago, I think he is an intriguing option to replicate or even better his efforts in this event back in 2009. After a five-year absence from the WGC Match Play, he will be keen to make a big return this week and qualify for the Masters next month.
Whilst Fisher won’t be one of the top-16 seeds, which may leave him with a tough group, there are some players in the 1-16 range that can be taken on, given their current form.
Despite missing two cuts in Dubai and Malaysia back in February, Fisher has still managed to finish T6 or better in 4 of his last 10 events including two runner-up finishes, so although no one would have expected to go quite as well as he did in Mexico, the form has been there. At 150/1 I think he is great value to grab his first win since 2014.
*All added below was updated 21/03 following the release of the draw.*
The draw and additional picks
Here are the groups, and my projected winner of each.
Group 1 Projected Winner – Dustin Johnson
It is hard to against the World No.1, especially on a course including four par-5’s and a drivable par-4. Whilst he does have three fellow U.S Open winners in his group, he should be too strong for each. Dustin’s 7-9 record in this event doesn’t stand out, but he is 3-0 in Ryder Cup singles and is also the most talented player of the group. Kaymer is 14-10 in this event and 21-17 in singles play overall, so he must be respected. Simpson also has a winning record in this event (7-4) but has not enjoyed any success outside this event (7-6-2 overall). Walker is the weakest of the group singles wise, with a 2-6 in this event and 3-8 overall.
Group 2 Projected Winner – Rory McIlroy
Almost all of the above about Johnson applies here, however I do believe Rory has a tougher group. He has been on form since his return from injury and he loves match-play. Rory is 22-8-1 in this event and 28-12-2 in singles play overall, a spectacular record. I can’t see it being plain sailing but his class should shine through over three matches. Woodland (6-3 in this event) has run him close before in this very event, whilst Grillo and Kjeldsen pose a threat thanks to their form over the last year. Neither have a great record in this event on limited starts though, so an in-form Rory should be too good.
Group 3 Projected Winner – Jason Day
Going with the favourite again, no hot takes just yet. Day showed glimpses of form at Bay Hill last week, en-route to a T23 finish. This is a tough group with some wily veterans, but Perez (1-2 in this event) has little experience in this event to draw on, whilst Westwood has been indifferent (15-18) in WGC Match-Play over the years. Westwood does have a winning record in singles play overall (34-32-1) but is also only 3-7 in Ryder Cup singles. His experience alone does still make him a tough opponent who should be respected. It is hard to predict what Leishman (3-4-1 in this event) will do this week, after winning at Bay Hill this past Sunday and his compatriot, Day may be too strong for him, especially if on form.
Group 4 Projected Winner – Ross Fisher
I have got to stick with my overall pick to win this event, despite him being handed arguably the toughest group of them all. Oosthuizen (15-7 in this event) finished runner-up here last year, whilst Matsuyama (6-3 in this event) will no doubt return to his early 2017 form soon. Furyk always poses a threat, but can be beaten as his 18-17 record in this event shows.
Group 5 Projected Winner – Jordan Spieth
With the greatest respect, Spieth (8-3 in this event) has the easiest group this week. Moore (7-8-1 in this event) is a dangerous opponent, but he should be a class above both Ikeda and Tanihara and can progress even if he halves with Moore. Spieth is beatable in match-play, losing all four singles matches he has played at both Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup but I still think he gets the job done this week.
Group 6 Projected Winner – Matt Fitzpatrick
I really like Fitzpatrick’s chances this week. Thomas went 0-3 here last year, and this is his only experience in match-play as a pro. Similarly Na is 3-4-1 in this event and again has no other singles experience in his pro career. Wood is 0-5 in his WGC Match-Play career and 7-11-1 overall in singles play, so it looks as though Fitpatrick has three opponents who are there for the taking. Fitzpatrick himself went 1-2 last year on debut, but was grouped with Berger, Mickelson and Reed last year and is 5-5 in singles matches overall.
Group 7 Projected Winner – Jon Rahm
Rahm is a star not just of the future but a star right now. If he is to eclipse his fellow Spaniard’s career, beating him here will be a big step. We are yet to see him in match-play but I think it will suit him down to a tee. Chappell is also yet to play match-play but he and Lowry (3-5-1 in this event, 5-10-1 overall) will not lay down without a fight. Whether they do put up a fight or not, I do still think it is a battle of the Spanish in this group. Sergio has played 34 matches in this event, winning 18 of them and losing 16, but his overall record of 30-25-3 in singles play shows not only experience but also an ability to win one-on-one.
Should Rahm beat his mentor here these week, he can really announce himself on the world stage once again.
Group 8 Projected Winner – Alex Noren
Alex Noren is a good match-play player, even if he is 1-2 in this event. Molinari is the most experienced of the group but is 2-7 in this event and 11-13-2 overall in singles play. Jaidee is 5-6-1 in this event, but 14-11-3 overall in match-play singles. Wiesberger is the weakest member on paper of the group (1-5-1 in this event and 2-6-1 overall in single play) but has plenty of talent to cause an upset. Noren has been in good form of late, as has Molinari, but I will give the Swede the nod this week. He got to the final of his last match-play event, the 2016 Paul Lawrie Match-Play ultimately losing out to Anthony Wall. Noren won four times last season, three of which came since that final loss to Wall, and is now sitting 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Group 9 Projected Winner – Jason Dufner
Dufner was an alternate this week, but I am going to stick my neck out and say he will take full advantage of his place week. He is 4-7 in this event but 6-7 overall, winning his lone singles match at both the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup. He is in form, coming off the back of four straight top-25 finishes, including a T11 at the Valspar last time out. Kisner is in similarly good current form, with four top-25 in his last five starts and three top-11 finishes in his last four starts, including a runner-up finish last week at Bay Hill. He went 1-2 in his sole effort in this event, but returns in great form this time around. Reed (6-3 in this event, 10-5-1 overall) is well known for his match-play exponents, but he looks out of sorts as present, finishing no better than T38 in his last three starts. The same goes for Koepka. He is 5-3 in this event and 6-3 overall in singles matches, but he has missed the weekend in three of his last four events, and the only reason he had four rounds under his belt in Mexico is because it was a no-cut event.
Whilst they are both out of form, Reed and Koepka should not be dismissed, as match-play brings out a different style of play.
This really is one of the toughest groups to call as you have two in-form players against two out-of-form players, that despite being out of form, have so far shown they love this event and match-play in general.
Group 10 Projected Winner – Tyrell Hatton
This was a very tough call, and the match-up between Cabrera-Bello and Hatton will be an interesting contest. I have opted for Hatton, who is making his debut in this event, to just shade it over Bello who is 6-3-1 in this event. Overall both players have played very well in singles matches. Hatton is 3-1 in his limited match-play experience as a pro. These four matches came at the 2015 Paul Lawrie MatchPlay, where Hatton was knocked out in the quarter-finals after 19 holes against Marc Warren. Hatton is now the 14th in the World Rankings and a much improved player. As aforementioned, Bello made it to the semis last year, where he was beat by Oosthuizen. Bello finished 3rd, beating McIlroy in the 3rd/4th place play-off. The Spaniard has an outstanding singles record overall, with his first ever Ryder Cup singles match resulting in a 3&2 win over U.S. Open champion, Jimmy Walker, which took his overall singles record to 11-4-1. I don’t rate Wang or Howell III’s chances, despite the latter going 2-0 in previous President’s Cups. Howell is 5-8 in this event and 7-8 overall, whilst Wang has one singles match to his name, which he halved against Ross Fisher at last year’s EurAsia Cup.
Group 11 Projected Winner – Danny Willett
Another tough group, but for different reasons. Willett is the only player to have a winning record in singles matches (7-2-1 in this event and 8-3-1 overall). Although he is out of form, so is the majority of the group. Haas (5-7 in this event, 6-9 overall) had six straight top-20’s to start his 2016/17 season, but has only managed to finish T32 and T41 in his last two starts. Knox (1-1-1 here last year) has struggled in the last couple of months, missing three cuts and finishing 70th in the no-cut WGC in Mexico, in his last four starts. K.T Kim is playing steady in Asia but finished dead last in Mexico two weeks ago, with 75 being his lowest round of the week. Kim also went 0-2 here last year and is 2-3-2 in singles overall, over his career.
With the whole group seemingly out of form, I am going with Willett to come out on top, based on his strong run in this event in 2015, when 3rd. Whilst that was at a different course, he took down Tommy Fleetwood, Westwood, Andy Sullivan, Reed and Moore that week, all very tough opponents.
Group 12 Projected Winner – Paul Casey
I am giving Casey favouritism over Schwartzel in this group, based on current form and the Englishman’s successful experience in this event in the past. Casey has played 33 matches in this event, winning 20, losing 12 and halving 1. He lost two and halved his other match last year, but I think he will bounce back this time around. One of those losses came as he conceded to Day last year after suffering with illness. Casey has twice been a runner-up in this event, albeit a while ago (2009 and 2010) but he has great match-play pedigree. Schwartzel is 11-8 in this event and went 2-1 here last year, with his loss coming at the hands of Brandt Snedeker. Luiten is 8-4 in match-play singles, and went 2-2 in this event two years ago and whilst he is in steady current form, he hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees. Byeon-hun An went 1-1-2 here last year, but is 1-2-2 overall in singles match-play. He does not enough experience in match-play nor enough current form for me to be confident in him bettering Casey in this group.
Group 13 Projected Winner – Thomas Pieters
One of the more predictable choices, Pieters will be the popular pick of this group. Pieters went 1-1-1 here last year but is 2-2-1 overall, including a 3&2 win over J.B Holmes at the Ryder Cup last year. Pieters has put in some eye-catching performances of late, finishing T5 in Mexico and T2 at the Genesis Open. Watson is 12-6-1 in this event but 0-3 in Ryder Cup singles and in terrible form of late. Piercy went unbeaten here last year, with a win over Dufner and two halves with Benny An and Fowler and is 3-2-2 in this event overall. He is not playing well enough of late though, to pose a threat to Pieters in my opinion. Texas Longhorn, Vegas is a lively outsider given his form over the last year, but he has never played in this event and I still think Pieters is the one to beat in this group.
Group 14 Projected Winner – Phil Mickelson
Mickelson is 18-12 in this event and 26-22-4 overall in singles. J.B Holmes is playing solidly of late and will push Mickelson, given his own record in this event (6-5-1) is not too shabby. Holmes extended his good run of play (no missed cuts since last August) with a T12 in Mexico two weeks ago. I went with Mickelson’s experience to split the two. Berger went 0-3 in this event last year, so despite all his potential, he needs to show more in this format to fancy him strongly in a tough group. Si Woo Kim has three withdrawals and five missed cuts in his last eleven events. He made his first cut in that span (T49) at Bay Hill last week but this is not enough. Given his lack of form and fitness problems, coupled with the fact he has no match-play form to go by, he doesn’t look a threat at all.
Group 15 Projected Winner – Brandt Snedeker
I had to go for the form horse in this group, and Snedeker is the one showing the best form of late. Snedeker (5-7-1), Sullivan (3-3) and Grace (4-5) have all struggled to excel in this event over the years, whilst McGirt has no experience in this, or even in match-play in general. That said, Jason Day was the only person to beat Snedeker in this event last year, and Snedeker also got the better of Sullivan in the Ryder Cup last September. Given his current form (three top-10’s in his last five starts), Snedeker is clearly the one to beat in this group. Grace did pick up 2 wins and 1 loss in his group last year, but his current form gives no reason to suggest he will get the better of Snedeker.
Group 16 Projected Winner – Zach Johnson
Johnson had the measure of this course last year, going a perfect 3-0 in his group, finally succumbing to Rory, who beat him 1-up in the last-16. Johnson has won 7 of his last 9 singles matches in all competitions including a comprehensive 4&3 win over Fitzpatrick at the Ryder Cup last September. Fleetwood is the man of the moment, and his record (3-2) in this event is not too shabby. In 2015 he beat Grace, Jamie Donaldson and Wiesberger, whilst losing out to Willett and Garcia. He is a better player now and should cause Johnson a lot of problems in this group. Kuchar has a ridiculously good record in this event (20-7-1) but hasn’t shown much in other match-play singles matches (1-6). He did go 2-1-1 here last year, but I like Johnson and Fleetwood more this week. Despite being in good form over the course of this season, Steele has never played in this event, nor does he have former match-play experience, which may well hinder his chances this week.
With all this in mind, here are two more selections for this week:
Matt Fitzpatrick 70/1 (Bet365 & StanJames) 1pt e/w:
I really like Fitzpatrick’s chances of winning his group, as stated above and if he does so he could well have a favourable last-16 match.
Should Fitzpatrick progress, he will face the winner of Group 11, which includes, Danny Willett, Russell Knox, Bill Haas and K.T Kim. All of these players are beatable on current form, so I think his odds are generous this week.
If he does make it as far as the quarters he may come up against the likes of Jason Day or Phil Mickelson, but if he is going to go as far in this game as many people expect him to, these are the sort of players he needs to get used to beating.
Zach Johnson 100/1 (General) 1pt e/w:
Given how well he played here last year, there’s a good chance – despite a lack of current form that Johnson can produce again this week. He loves playing in Texas, as highlighted by his two Valero Texas Open wins, so he should still arrive this week full of confidence and the memories of this time last year fresh in his mind.
Although he could face a last-16 match-up with World No.1 Dustin Johnson, he has plenty of experience to draw on. He is a gritty competitor and is well known for winning against the odds, again highlighted by his Masters and Open Championship titles.
Total Points staked this week: 6
Profit/Loss for 2017: – 30