The WGC Dell Match Play has always been an event that has struggled somewhat to attain the elite status that it so desperately yearns for. The straight knock-out format that existed previously was derided for producing too many early shocks- saying something about the average golfing fan’s feelings towards the underdog. The new format- adopted in 2015- sees all 64 players play 3 group matches before the knockout section gets underway, a feature which has dramatically altered the fabric of the tournament and seen the cream of golf rise to the top.
The Pete Dye designed Austin Country Club is not long at a little over 7000 yards and has four par five’s and an extremely reachable par 4, meaning that one should expect a rollercoaster ride this week. The gruelling format means that perhaps the younger guys will have something of an edge over their more esteemed counterparts. Last year, Zach Johnson - at 40 - was the oldest man to progress past the group stage, while Louis Oosthuizen - at 33- was the oldest to make the quarter-final line-up.
The tournament’s unfortunate proximity to the Masters means that several of the world’s top players have decided to give this a skip. Henrik Stenson, Ricky Fowler, Adam Scott and recently married Adam Hadwin have all withdrawn from this week’s event. Jason Day looks to jumpstart his season in defence of his crown while Rory McIlroy aims to build momentum towards that Grand Slam push at Augusta.
WGC Match Play | Wednesday 22 March - Sunday 26 March | Austin Country Club, Austin, Texas
2016: Jason Day | 2015: Rory McIlroy | 2014: Jason Day | 2013: Matt Kuchar | 2012: Hunter Mahan
To Win Outright
Rory McIlroy 7/1 | Dustin Johnson 15/2 | Jordan Spieth 10/1 | Jason Day 16/1 | Hideki Matsuyama 20/1
Jason Day - To Win 16/1 & To Place 4/1
It may seem to strange to be looking for value in the defending champion and recently disposed World Number One. But 16/1 seems extremely generous for a man who looked imperious at last year’s event. Let’s not forget, the affable Aussie also won the event in 2014 and has an astonishing record of 21 victories to 6 defeats in the WGC Match Play. His draw also looks extremely favourable. It’s going to be a hard task for Mark Leishman to back up after his long-awaited, emotional victory last week. Pat Perez and Lee Westwood also don’t make for the most fearsome opponents on paper. Even looking further into the competition, his side of the draw doesn’t make for scary reading. Justin Thomas lost all 3 of his matches last year and has had a gruelling campaign this season while Danny Willett has been under the weather and out of sorts.
Paul Casey - To Win 40/1 & To Place 10/1
The Englishman had to withdraw due to injury last season, but a year prior he lost narrowly to Rory in the quarter-finals. The experienced Ryder Cup campaigner is something of a match-play aficionado, winning the event in 2006 whilst finishing as runner-up on two other occasions. The Englishman’s only PGA Tour victory came in Texas at next week’s Shell Houston Open, back in 2009. He won’t feel daunted by windy conditions and has a fairly favourable international draw, with Schwartzel, An and Luiten making for an intriguing group.
Louis Oosthuizen - 55/1 & To Place 13/1
King Louis seems a tad long at 55/1. He was brilliant last season en route to a runner-up finish to Day. He managed to expunge Texan natives Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth after emerging from an admittedly easy group. He also is one of the few players in the entire field with some match-play golf under his belt this year, with a creditable 5th place finish in Perth. He was also brilliant at the Phoenix Open and looks set for another concerted push at this title. He did something at the 2015 President’s Cup that Rory couldn’t: he managed to get a half against the rambunctious Patrick Reed. He’s also the only player in the field who has won all 6 group matched since the tournament changed its format in 2015.
The Man to Beat
Rory McIlroy - To Win 7/1 & To Place 7/4
It may not be the most fantastic price this week, but I just can’t look past the effervescent Northern Irishman. He finished 7th in Mexico and 4th at Bay Hill last week. He was brilliant at the weekend, somehow manufacturing a chance for victory in the final round. Knowing he needed a three on the final hole, he gave his put far too much and inexplicitly three-putted. Rory won this event two years ago, beating Gary Woodland in the final. It seems to bode well for Rory that he has been drawn in the same group as Woodland this year, while Soren Kjeldsen and Emiliano Grillo round off an inviting opportunity for the Northern Irishman. He only narrowly lost to eventual champion Day in the semi-finals last season and is a match specialist. Few will ever forget his epic dual with Patrick Reed at the Ryder Cup. Though he narrowly lost, McIlroy navigated an extremely partisan crowd to play some of the most stunning match-play golf ever seen.