The first weekend of the Men’s NCAA College Basketball Tournament has come and gone and gone are all perfect brackets – but new life and new opportunity have arrived. It is the World Golf Championships Dell Technologies Match Play and similar to College Basketball’s bracketology, the Match Play too sets up as a 64-player tournament field with golfers facing off head to head, one on one, eventually arriving at a Final Four, and finally crowning a singular tournament champion. The top 64-players in the world are here, seeded and divided into regions, just as they are on the hardwood. There are a few stars who have skipped this week’s event however; Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, and Brooks Keopka who continues to be sidelined by injury.
For the third straight year, this World Golf Championship will be held at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas. It is a Pete Dye design and sets up remarkably well for a match play format due to the number of risk-reward scenarios. The golf course is a relatively short, Par 71 and each of the three Par 5’s are reachable in two shots. There is a short, drivable Par 4 and in the way of hazards, the course has very deep sand bunkers and a river that runs throughout the layout. Aggressive play can be handsomely rewarded or severely punished making for some very dramatic competition.
While match play is tremendous to watch, it is a very difficult handicap compared to a four-day stroke play event. You have one player facing another player, head to head, in a match, for what may not even end up being 18-holes – rather than one player competing amongst a field, over the course of four days. And then there is the science of match play as some very journeyman Tour players can flourish in this format while often times the top players in the world can falter. One very important aspect of this week’s handicap is looking at how these players have fared in match play in the past. How have they performed at this tournament, The Ryder Cup, and also The President’s Cup.
The WGC Match Play used to be a one and done format. If you lost your match on Wednesday, you went home. Since they have switched to pool play, with each player within a 4-player group getting a match against every other player in that group – and then the player with the best record in the group play advancing on to the next round – we have seen more star power rise to the top in terms of winning this championship. Your winners the last three years have been Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Rory McIlroy.
Rory McIlroy (+8.32 Pinnacle) Rory won this event a few years back at Harding Park in San Francisco. Will he cool down just a bit from last week where he seemed to make everything he looked at, playing the final 13-holes at The Arnold Palmer in 8-under par? McIlroy was 4th here two years ago.
Dustin Johnson (+9.28 Pinnacle) DJ is your defending champion. The year before last he was 5th. Coming into last year’s WGC Match Play, he was off of wins in Los Angeles and Mexico. He arrives not nearly as hot this year but still holds onto a lifetime match play record of 18-10-and-1.
Justin Thomas (+12.21 Pinnacle) Thomas’ match play record is actually very poor at 1-and-6 but there are not many people in the world playing better golf than JT right now as he is off of a win at The Honda and a playoff loss at The WGC Mexico.
Jon Rahm (+1409 Bookmaker) In his first ever time playing this event last year, Rahm went all the way to the finals, eventually losing to Dustin Johnson. He loves to attack this course with his length and use his soft touch around the greens. Will he be rusty though as we’ve only seen Rahm in action twice in the last six weeks.
Jason Day (+1406 Bookmaker) A two time winner of this championship, Day loves match play. He won here at this course in 2016 and in Tuscon in 2014.
Jordan Spieth (+1602 Bookmaker) Spieth has done well at this event and at this course, being very familiar with Austin CC from his University of Texas days. His record however is very poor at The President and Ryder Cups. He is currently coming off of a missed cut at The Valspar two weeks ago.
The Long Shots
Patrick Reed (+3000 5Dimes) If there was ever an American poster boy for The Ryder Cup, right? Reed is 10-8-and-2 in match play for his career and took 9th here in 2016. He arrives off of two straight Top 10 finishes.
Branden Grace (+52.24 Pinnacle) Grace has been very strong at The President’s Cup and his short game this season is firing on all cylinders. He recorded his first Top 10 finish of the season two weeks ago at The Valspar.
Matt Kuchar (+6600 5Dimes) Kuchar won this event in 2013 when it was in Tuscon and he owns three additional Top 10 finishes outside of that. He’s at his best at this event though as his President’s and Ryder Cup record is 1-and-7.
Zach Johnson (+7000 5Dimes) The two-time Major Champion is playing some excellent golf right now, having not missed a cut in nearly eight months. He is a very strong match play player, above .500 for his career and 3-1-and-1 at The Ryder Cup. Zach has finished 9th here at this event the last two seasons. He is steady off of the tee and one of the best in the game from the approach on in and I like a good short game in match play. Finally, he has won three other times in the state of Texas, twice at Colonial Country Club at once at The Valero Texas Open. I like him to end up again as The Lone Star, this weekend.
Click HERE for all of Brady Kannon’s Golf picks