Assessing the field at Match Play

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Matt Jones picked up his second career PGA Tour victory with a five-shot victory over Brandon Hagy last weekend at the Honda Classic. The win puts Jones in the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 for the first time. But he will not play in this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as the OWGR rankings for entry were cut off 10 days ago. However, most of the world’s top 64 players will be in Austin, Texas, for the PGA Tour version of March Madness. 
 
Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka are missing with injuries, Justin Rose is dealing with back spasms that forced his withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational and caused him to miss the Players Championship, and Gary Woodland is still in quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test. Adam Scott has chosen not to play this week as he rests for the Masters. Match-play ace and 2010 event winner Ian Poulter (100-1), Erik van Rooyen, Adam Long, J.T. Poston and Dylan Frittelli will take their places.
 
Players champion Justin Thomas, the No. 2 seed, is the betting favorite at 12-1. But he is in a pool with two former winners of this event in Kevin Kisner (2019) and Matt Kuchar (2014), plus 2016 runner-up Louis Oosthuizen. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (14-1) won this event in 2017 over world No. 3 Jon Rahm (also 14-1) in the final. Johnson will be part of a pool including Kevin Na, Robert MacIntyre and Long. Rahm’s group consists of Ryan Palmer, with whom he paired to win the 2019 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, British Open champion Shane Lowry and Sebastian Munoz. World No. 4 Collin Morikawa (20-1) makes his first Match Play appearance as the top seed in his pool of Billy Horschel, Max Homa and Poston. Fifth seed Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) draws Tommy Fleetwood, Si Woo Kim and Abraham Ancer. Several other recent Match Play champions are also in Austin this week, including 2018 champion Bubba Watson (80-1), 2016 winner Jason Day (35-1) and 2014 champ Rory McIlroy (18-1). 
 
 
The Event
 
The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play began in 1999 and moved to Austin in 2016 while picking up locally headquartered Dell Technologies as its title sponsor. As always, the OWGR top 64 and alternates compose the field. Players are split into four groups and seeded based on world ranking in pods of 1-16, 17-32, 33-48 and 49-64. In 2015, the event underwent a format change. Instead of seeding players 1 through 64 in a one-and-done format, the event features a round-robin format Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. As typical for any match-play competition, a player earns one point for a win and a half-point for a tie, and the group winner moves on to the next round. Ties after three matches are broken in sudden death until a player advances. Once pool play is completed, the round of 16 begins, and it uses a one-and-done format. The round of 16 and quarterfinals will be played Saturday, with the semifinals and final Sunday.
 
The Course
 
The Austin Country Club was designed in 1984 by Pete and Alice Dye and renovated in 2015 and 2019 by Rod Whitman. The course plays as a par-71 of 7,082 yards. Big hitters like Johnson and Watson have won here, but the short-hitting Kisner won in 2019 and was the runner-up the year before. The first six holes are flat, and the next 12 are in the hills. Austin CC is a typical Pete Dye design with undulations, forced carries over five water hazards and greens protected by 110 pot bunkers. The fairways are Bermudagrass, while the 5,500-square-foot, TifEagle Bermuda greens are small and fast (12 Stimpmeter). 
 
Here are some other Pete Dye designs featured on the PGA Tour:
— Crooked Stick, 2012 and ’16 BMW Championship
— Concession, 2021 WGC Workday
— Harbour Town, RBC Heritage
— Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, 2012 PGA Championship
— TPC River Highlands, The Travelers
— TPC Louisiana, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
— TPC Sawgrass, The Players Championship
— Whistling Straits, 2010 and ’15 PGA Championship
 
WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Recent Winners
 
2020: No event
2019: Kevin Kisner 80-1
2018: Bubba Watson 50-1
2017: Dustin Johnson 10-1
2016: Jason Day 14-1
 
Trends and Angles
— Before Kisner’s victory in 2019, the previous five winners had won an event in one of their previous five starts in the lead-up.
— The last six winners had reached at least the quarterfinals in an appearance before their wins.
— Since the Match Play moved to the current venue, 36% of the groups have been won by the top seed (1 through 16), 25% by the second seed, 22% by the third seed and 17% by the fourth seed.
 
Records
Here are the players in this week's field with winning records in the Match Play in Austin:
— Kevin Kisner: 14-5-1
— Louis Oosthuizen: 13-6-0
— Dustin Johnson: 11-7-0
— Matt Kuchar: 10-3-4
— Bubba Watson: 9-5-3
— Rory McIlroy: 9-5-2
— Sergio Garcia: 9-5-1
— Justin Thomas: 8-7-1
— Jason Day: 8-6-0
— Jon Rahm: 7-4-2
— Jordan Spieth: 7-4-2
— Patrick Reed: 7-5-2
— Paul Casey: 7-5-2
— Kevin Na: 7-6-2
— Ian Poulter: 6-2-0
— Tyrrell Hatton: 6-4-1
— Patrick Cantlay: 3-2-1
— Xander Schauffele: 3-2-1
— Brian Harman: 2-1-1
— Abraham Ancer: 2-1-0
These players have losing records in this event: 
 
— Daniel Berger: 1-8-0
— Webb Simpson: 1-6-2
— Shane Lowry: 1-5-3
— Bryson DeChambeau: 1-2-0
— Matt Wallace: 1-2-0
— Russell Henley: 1-2-0
— Dylan Frittelli: 1-2-0
— Andy Sullivan: 2-4-0
— Billy Horschel: 2-3-1
— Lee Westwood: 3-5-1
— Si Woo Kim: 3-5-2
— Cameron Smith: 3-4-1
— Bernd Wiesberger: 3-4-2
— Matt Fitzpatrick: 4-8-0
— Hideki Matsuyama: 4-6-2
— Marc Leishman: 5-6-2
 
Stats
 
Texas can get windy this time of year, so ball striking becomes even more important. The approach game especially needs to be on point. 
 
SG: Approach Leaders (last 24 rounds)
1. Collin Morikawa 31.4
2. Justin Thomas 26
3. Corey Conners 22.7
4. Will Zalatoris 21.2
5. Tyrrell Hatton 19.7
6. Dustin Johnson 18.5
7. Max Homa 18.1
8. Jordan Spieth 18
9. Lanto Griffin 17.6
10. Jon Rahm 17.2
Although this course doesn't necessarily favor longer hitters, the greens are firm, so you have to stay in the short grass if you miss fairways.
 
SG: Off-The-Tee Leaders (last 24 rounds)
1. Bryson DeChambeau 26.8
2. Sungjae Im 21.9
3. Viktor Hovland 19.3
4. Sergio Garcia 17
5. Corey Conners 15.2
6. Jon Rahm 14.7
7. Patrick Cantlay 14.4
8. Joaquin Niemann 14.2
9. Tony Finau 13.3
10. Daniel Berger 13.1
Since Austin is a Pete Dye design, players who have won or featured here in the past often had success on Dye-correlated tracks.
 
SG: Pete Dye Designs (last 24 rounds)
1. Bryson DeChambeau 51.8
2. Brian Harman 47.3
3. Dustin Johnson 46.6
4. Abraham Ancer 44.5
5. Jason Day 42.8
6. Paul Casey 40.6
7. Webb Simpson 39.7
8. Si Woo Kim 36.7
9. Patrick Cantlay 34.7
10. Rory McIlroy 29.8
Hot putters on Bermudagrass like Day and Kisner have won here in the past.
 
SG: Putting Bermudagrass (last 24 rounds)
1. Sungjae Im 32.2
2. Matthew Fitzpatrick 29.1
3. Brendon Todd 24.6
4. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 23.7
5. Kevin Kisner 20.8
6. J.T. Poston 19.8
7. Mackenzie Hughes 19.2
8. Brian Harman 18.1
9. Russell Henley 17.6
10. Patrick Reed 17.2
Hitting greens in regulation is even more important this week because the greens figure to be firm and fast.
 
GIR Gained (last 24 rounds)
1. Will Zalatoris 35.8
2. Corey Conners 30.7
3. Collin Morikawa 26.5
4. Russell Henley 24.4
5. Justin Thomas 23.2
6. Jason Kokrak 22.4
7. Matthew Fitzpatrick 21.6
8. Si Woo Kim 19.9
9. Jon Rahm 19.2
10. Paul Casey 19.1
Selections
 
Jon Rahm 14-1
 
As the No. 21 seed, Rahm was runner-up in his debut in this event in 2017, losing 1-up in the final to Dustin Johnson, who was the No. 1 seed that year. 
 
Of all the top seeds, Rahm looks to have the easiest draw. His group consists of Ryan Palmer, who struggled being paired with Rahm in the final group last summer at the Memorial Tournament; Shane Lowry, who has never advanced out of pool play here; and Sebastian Munoz, who is making his event debut. In the round of 16, Daniel Berger would be the projected seed to meet him. However, Berger has a poor record in this event and had to withdraw last week from the Honda Classic, where he was the tournament favorite, with a rib injury. If Berger fails to get out of his group, either Harris English, Brendon Todd or Erik van Rooyen would await, and Rahm would be a massive favorite over any of the three. If the top seeds hold form, Xander Schauffele or Rory McIlroy could await in the quarterfinals, and both are always formidable but also a bit out of form at the moment. 
 
Rahm’s ball striking has been in its usual top shape this season. The putter needs to come along a little bit, but when it does, Rahm will be back in the winner’s circle. 
 
Matthew Fitzpatrick 40-1
 
Fitzpatrick opens with a coin-flip match against Jordan Spieth. The winner is likely to advance from group play over event debutants Matthew Wolff and Corey Conners. Wolff is injured, and Conners can often miss short putts in pressure situations. 
 
Tommy Fleetwood 60-1
 
While Bryson DeChambeau looms in group play for Fleetwood, seven of the 16 players in this quarter are making their event debuts. 
 
Fleetwood is still trying to find his form, but he is historically an excellent putter on Bermudagrass greens. 
 
Russell Henley 80-1
 
Henley is in terrific recent form but is No. 55 in the OWGR and needs to get into the top 50 to qualify for the Masters. In fact, he has not yet qualified for any of the 2021 major championships. 
 
However, he was in this situation in 2017 and rose to the pressure by winning the Houston Open to qualify for Augusta. The draw is not easy, with Sungjae Im in his group and then a potential meeting with the top-seeded Johnson in the round of 16. But his putting and ball striking have been stellar of late, so it is not impossible to make a run. 
 
Unlike stroke play, this event also provides opportunities to take futures and props for players to advance out of their groups. Here are few plays for players to advance into the round of 16:
 
Group 2: Louis Oosthuizen + 275 over Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar
Group 4: Max Homa + 320 over Collin Morikawa, Billy Horschel and J.T. Poston
Group 11: Cameron Smith + 240 over Rory McIlroy, Lanto Griffin and Ian Poulter
Group 12: Jason Kokrak + 300 over Tony Finau, Will Zalatoris and Dylan Frittelli
Group 16: Russell Henley + 270 over Sungjae Im, Marc Leishman and Victor Perez
 
Corales Puntacana Resort and Golf Club Championship
 
Hudson Swafford was down to his last two starts on a major medical extension when he won this event in September and earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption and an invitation to the 2021 Masters. Now this event is back in its customary spot as an alternate event to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Charley Hoffman returns to the Dominican Republic, where he finished 14th last year, off two top-10 finishes over the last six weeks as the 18-1 co-favorite with Thomas Pieters. Emiliano Grillo (20-1) has played here in two of the last three years. Thomas Detry and Jhonattan Vegas (both 25-1) are back for the third straight year as well, and Vegas finished as runner-up in the last alternate event at the Puerto Rico Open four weeks ago. Luke List, eighth here last year, and Charles Howell III share a 30-1 tag. Brandon Wu was seventh four weeks ago in Puerto Rico and is priced in the mid-30s range with a host of players including Patrick Rodgers, Sepp Straka, Taylor Pendrith, Lee Hodges and Nate Lashley. Defending champion Swafford won last year at 200-1 and will try to repeat at half the price of 100-1. 
 
The Event
 
The Corales Puntacana Resort and Golf Club Championship began as a Web.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour event in 2016. The event was promoted and transitioned to the PGA Tour event as an alternate event in 2018. It is back to its customary spot in March as the alternate event to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which includes only the top 64 players and alternates in the OWGR. The event loses its temporary full-event status with no Masters invite going to the winner, but 300 FedEx Cup points and a two-year PGA Tour exemption are on the line. 
 
The Course
 
The Corales Golf Club in Punta Cana is in the La Altagracia province on the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The course was designed in 2010 by Tom Fazio and plays as a par-72 of 7,670 yards. It is a fairly easy, flat track with inland and coastal sections. The wind can blow and keep the scoring somewhat under control, but Corales is plenty scorable and should surrender plenty of birdies. The portion of the course away from the shore has four holes with water hazards. Six holes play along the coast, including Nos. 16-18, known as “The Devil’s Elbow.” Supreme Paspalum, a turf that is becoming more widely used especially in the South due to its low maintenance and irrigation requirements, is used throughout the course. The fairways are fairly wide and forgiving, and the greens roll relatively slowly at 11 on the Stimpmeter. This course really doesn’t favor any particular player. It is gettable for both bombers and superior ball strikers, but it will largely be decided by who gets hot at the right time with the putter.
 
Recent History
 
2020: Hudson Swafford (-18/270); 200-1
2019: Graeme McDowell (-18/270); 40-1
2018: Brice Garnett (-18/270); 66-1
2017: Nate Lashley (-20/268); 28-1*
2016: Dominic Bozzelli (-24/264); 90-1*
 
*Web.com events
 
Selections
 
Sepp Straka 40-1
 
Straka has a good history at alternative events with finishes of second (2019) and 12th (2020) at the Barracuda Championship.
 
He ranks 11th on the PGA Tour for SG: Off The Tee and 15th on tour for SG: Tee To Green. 
 
Taylor Pendrith 40-1
 
The Canadian won twice on PGA Tour Canada in 2019 and was promoted to the Korn Ferry Tour last season, where he had four runner-up finishes in just 22 starts.
 
It took him a few weeks after the layoff last season to get going, and then he had consecutive finishes of 3-2-2-2. He has only three starts this season and didn’t make his first 2021 appearance until five weeks ago. This looks like a spot where he could peak just like last year. 
 
Tom Lewis 46-1
 
Lewis was third in Saudi Arabia in 2019 on similar Paspalum greens and has high finishes in Dubai, which features these greens as well. 
 
Will Gordon 46-1
 
Always near the top in gaining strokes off the tee, Gordon has made six of his last seven cuts. 
 
He also finished second Monday in the pro-member event at Seminole Golf Club, where many PGA Tour players have memberships. 
 
Lucas Herbert 50-1
 
Going down narrative street with this one as the Australian was the final alternate not to make it into the Match Play based on his current OWGR at No. 72. 
 
Camilo Villegas 75-1
 
Villegas needed a T-3 last week at the Honda Classic to secure his PGA Tour playing privileges on his last start on exemption. He fell just short with a finish of eighth but gets another opportunity here in a weaker field and a solid history on these Paspalum surfaces with top-20s in Puerto Rico and Malaysia. 
 
Ted Potter Jr. 100-1
 
Potter is historically a very good player on coastal golf courses. 
 
He has back-to-back top-10s in Puerto Rico and had one last year at the Sony. Potter is also a former winner at Pebble Beach.
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