Bracket fever is spreading, and this week it hits golf. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and other top golfers will go head-to-head at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Here’s what you need to know heading into this unique tournament.
The field consists of the top 64 golfers in the world according to the Official World Golf Rankings. Players are split into groups of four, playing round-robin matches for the first three days. The 16 winners of each group then advance to a single-elimination bracket, with the round of 16 and quarterfinals on Saturday followed by the semi-finals, finals, and consolation match on Sunday.
It is the only WGC event that is match play and not the usual stroke play golf fans are accustomed to.
Since 2016, WGC-Match Play has been hosted by the Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas. This Par 71 course is approximately 7,108 yards long and winds its way along the Colorado River.
This course is known for having two different stretches that are very different from one another. The first nine holes are played in the hills, while the back nine are on flat ground which is surrounded by Lake Austin. As one can assume with the lakes and rivers nearby, water is the main hazard, along with deep pot bunkers.
The weather should be good for at least the first few days of the tournament. Dry and warm weather will dominate before Saturday and especially Sunday cool off a bit and give way to potential rain.
This tournament started 20 years ago, where from 1999 to 2006, it was played in Carlsbad, California. It then moved to Marana, Arizona for a few years, then San Francisco for a year, before finally settling in Austin in 2016.
Last year, Bubba Watson dominated the field, beating Brian Hartman, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Thomas and Kevin Kisner to win his first WGC-Match Play. Ranked 39th in the world, Watson was the lowest-ranked winner since 54th-ranked Geoff Ogilvy in 2006. Previous winners include Dustin Johnson in 2017, Jason Day in 2016 and 2014 and Rory McIlroy in 2015
All of those previous winners and more are in this year’s event. Here are the golfers to keep an eye on, along with a prediction on who will win.
Jon Rahm – 18/1
Rahm comes in with a good track record in match play, course history, and a hot hand. The Spaniard defeated Tiger Woods one-on-one during the singles event at last year’s Ryder Cup, and the year before that was the runner-up here in Austin. He also ranks second in SG: off-the-tee on the Tour and has nine top-12 finishes in his last 10 starts, Rahm has a lot of what you’re looking for to win.
Tommy Fleetwood – 20/1
While he has yet to win an event like this, Fleetwood does have match experience from his perfect run with Francesco Molinari at last year’s Ryder Cup. But he does have a ton of momentum coming in, with a top-3 finish at Arnold Palmer and top-5 at the Players Championship. He also has the stats to back it up, ranking fifth in SG: tee-to-green and fourth in SG: off-the-tee.
Kevin Kisner – 75/1
Last year’s runner-up, Kisner is someone who may get overlooked again this week. In addition to last year’s run, he has won events in Texas (Ft. Worth Invitational), and has finished between 22nd and 28th in each of his last five starts. As the 48-seed, Kisner will have to get past Tony Finau and Ian Poulter to advance to the round of 16, but has the skill to do it.
While the big-names will dominate the discussion, keep an eye on the underrated players like Kisner, Aphibarnrat, and Poulter. Last year, only five of the top 16 seeds advanced to the round of 16, so anything can happen in match play.
Ultimately, I will go with a player who has been close to a win and is right up there with the world’s best. I’ll pick Tommy Fleetwood to take home his first WGC-Match Play title.
Tee time in Austin is set for Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m. local time, with round robin matches lasting for the next three days.