In a break from traditional PGA Tour strokeplay duties, this week we have a Match Play event to try and untangle.
What is match play? Quite simply, each player is looking to outscore their opponent. It doesn’t matter if they birdie the hole or bogey it, if they finish it more efficiently then they take the point – if they both birdie it, for example, the hole is halved. It is the player with the most points after 18 holes – or earlier if one player builds an insurmountable lead over their opponent – that wins.
This WGC Dell Match Play tournament brings together 64 of the world’s finest players from the PGA, European and Asian Tours, each of whom will be looking to get into form prior to The Masters, which kicks off on April 6, while getting their hands on a hefty chunk of that $9 million kitty.
Most of the world’s elite are in the field bar Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler, so there will be plenty of eye-catching contests to enjoy in this tournament which is hosted by the Austin Country Club in Texas.
What can we expect from the Austin CC? That’s a great question, and seeing as though the PGA/European Tours don’t record stats for match play events we’ll never know! It has been described as a mildly challenging Par 71 (7,043 yards) with water in-play throughout and plenty of trees to circumnavigate too.
All of the Par 5s are reachable, with a drivable Par 4 on course too, so plenty of low-scoring opportunities are available – who will take advantage? Texan golf is typically beset by windy conditions, and that looks set to be a theme this week as well.
It’s worth knowing about the tournament format as this will help to inform betting picks. Firstly, the top 16 players in the field are seeded, and as such they are split cross the 16 groups of four players. They are joined in their group by one player from Pool B (those ranked 17-32), one from Pool C (33-48) and one from Pool D (49-64).
These each play each other in a round robin format, with the group winner progressing to the last 16, which is then a straight knockout format in traditional ‘cup’ style.
Why is that format so important? Because 12 months ago there were only 24 ‘upsets’, e.g. the lower seeded player winning, out of the 96 group matches played. We have to favour the top seeds accordingly.
WGC Dell Match Play Betting Tips
There’s no messing about with our first pick and that is Rory McIlroy at 15/2. The Irishman won this event in 2015 and reached the semi-finals 12 months ago, so it is clearly a format he enjoys.
McIlroy has also shown some great form since returning from a rib injury, notably his third place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last time out which was an event he could and probably would have won if they had nine more holes to play, and so we have every faith in him. A fortnight away from The Masters, he will be desperate to get back in the winner’s enclosure.
Jon Rahm is interesting at 25/1 too. The Spaniard is young and fearless, and so he will attack the flag with gay abandon this week. That can be a winning strategy in match play as others opt for a more conservative approach, and you sense his laidback personality will help; match play golf can often be fraught with frayed nerves and discombobulated thinking. A group containing compatriot Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and Kevin Chappell will hold no fear.
At the next price point is Patrick Reed (45/1), a player who loves match play golf. Reed has been the star performer for Team USA in each of the last two Ryder Cups, and while that is much to do with his patriotism as much as anything else, there is clearly something about this format that suits his grinding game. In his group he has Brooks Koepka, who is woefully out of form, Kevin Kisner – who has to overcome the heartache of throwing away a three-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer last week, and Jason Dufner; a talented sort but one who has never really showed his best in match play.
And finally a slither on Francesco Molinari (66/1) is worthwhile. The Italian has been in fine form in 2017 with a raft of top-20 finishes, and you sense that he could use this event as a platform to remind the Ryder Cup selectors for 2018 of his abilities in the match play arena; it’s a strategy that worked well for Rafa Cabrera-Bello, anyway.
Molinari’s all European Tour group features Alex Noren – lacking form of late, Bernd Wiesberger, who has never shown his best form on US soil, and grizzled veteran Thongchai Jaidee, who is shortly outmatched here.