PGA Tour best bets: WGC Match Play

March 22, 2022 06:11 PM
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This week, the PGA Tour’s version of March Madness takes place in Austin, Texas, with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The top 64 players in the world rankings get a chance to participate in group play before the knockout stage commences in the Round of 16. Sam Burns, who won the Valspar Championship last week for the second consecutive year, will not compete in the Match Play. Burns, who won at a price of 25-1, moves to No. 10 in the OWGR courtesy of three victories in the last 12 months. Also sitting out this week are Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Harris English and Phil Mickelson.

Every other player in the top 64 as of March 15, plus six alternates, are in Austin. World No. 1 Jon Rahm (14-1) was the only player seeded in the top 16 last year to make it to the Round of 16 before bowing out in the quarterfinals. Rahm finished runner-up here in 2017. Justin Thomas (14-1) made the semifinals in 2018. Viktor Hovland (18-1) went 1-2 in group play and did not advance in his first appearance last year. Collin Morikawa (20-1) failed to win a match last year in his first appearance. Scottie Scheffler (20-1) made a run to the championship match before losing to Billy Horschel (33-1). Scheffler defeated Rahm and some other heavyweights on his way to the final match. 

Burns' victory last week knocked 2017 champion Dustin Johnson (22-1) out of the OWGR top 10 for the first time in seven years. Patrick Cantlay (22-1) has not made it to the Round of 16 in three appearances but came close last year before losing to Brian Harman (66-1) in extra holes. Xander Schauffele (25-1) suffered the same fate as Cantlay last year when he was defeated by Scheffler in extra holes. The same goes for Daniel Berger (28-1), who had his first chance to reach the Round of 16 before losing in extra holes to Erik van Rooyen (125-1).

Bryson DeChambeau (40-1) also seeks to make it out of group play for the first time as he makes his return to the PGA Tour after an eight-week hiatus due to a wrist injury. 

The Event

The WGC Match Play began in 1999 and moved to Austin in 2016. As always, the OWGR top 64 and alternates comprise the field. Each group is made up of four players based on world ranking, with one player in each group seeded 1-16, one seeded 17-32, one seeded 33-48 and one seeded 49-64. In 2015, the event underwent a format change. Instead of having players seeded 1 through 64 in a six-round, one-and-done format, the event now features a round-robin format with matches on 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 Round of 16. If there is a tie at the top of the group after three matches, players will play sudden death until one player advances. Once group play is completed, the Round of 16 begins as the event goes to a knockout, one-and-done format. The Round of 16 and quarterfinals will be played on Saturday. The semifinals, third-place match and final will be played on Sunday.

Here are how the groups were drawn from the pools on Monday (seeding in parentheses):

Group 1

Jon Rahm (1)

Patrick Reed (23)

Cameron Young (40)

Sebastian Munoz (58)

Group 2

Collin Morikawa (2)

Jason Kokrak (22)

Sergio Garcia (43)

Robert MacIntyre (61)

Group 3

Viktor Hovland (3)

Will Zalatoris (24)

Cameron Tringale (45)

Sepp Straka (63)

Group 4

Patrick Cantlay (4)

Sungjae Im (21)

Seamus Power (42)

Keith Mitchell (62)

Group 5

Scottie Scheffler (5)

Matt Fitzpatrick (20)

Tommy Fleetwood (41)

Ian Poulter (59)

Group 6

Justin Thomas (6)

Kevin Kisner (29)

Marc Leishman (37)

Luke List (53)

Group 7

Xander Schauffele (7)

Tony Finau (18)

Lucas Herbert (39)

Takumi Kanaya (56)

Group 8

Dustin Johnson (8)

Max Homa (30)

Matthew Wolff (38)

Mackenzie Hughes (51)

Group 9

Bryson DeChambeau (9)

Talor Gooch (27)

Lee Westwood (47)

Richard Bland (54)

Group 10

Louis Oosthuizen (10)

Paul Casey (19)

Corey Conners (36)

Alex Noren (50)

Group 11

Jordan Spieth (11)

Adam Scott (32)

Justin Rose (46)

Keegan Bradley (60)

Group 12

Billy Horschel (12)

Thomas Pieters (26)

Tom Hoge (33)

Min Woo Lee (49)

Group 13

Tyrrell Hatton (13)

Daniel Berger (17)

Si Woo Kim (48)

Christiaan Bezuidenhout (52)

Group 14

Joaquin Niemann (14)

Kevin Na (25)

Russell Henley (34)

Maverick McNealy (64)

Group 15

Abraham Ancer (15)

Webb Simpson (31)

Brian Harman (44)

Bubba Watson (57)

Group 16

Brooks Koepka (16)

Shane Lowry (28)

Harold Varner III (35)

Erik van Rooyen (55)

The winners of each group will advance to the Round of 16. The winner of Group 1 plays the winner of Group 16, Group 8 vs. Group 9, 5 vs. 12, 4 vs. 13, 6 vs. 11, 3 vs. 14, 7 vs. 10 and 2 vs. 15. You should be familiar if you filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket last week. 

​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 7,108 yards. Big hitters such as Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson have won here, but a shorter hitter in Kevin Kisner won in 2019 and finished runner-up in 2018. The first six holes are flat and the next 12 are in the hills. Austin CC is a typical Dye design with undulations, forced carries over water (seven water holes) and greens protected by pot bunkers (110 in all). The fairways are Bermudagrass, while the greens are small (5,500 square feet) with fast Overseeded Poa Trivialis (12 stimpmeter). 

The front nine is rugged and hilly with plenty of uneven lies. The back nine, where the wind has a greater effect, has more of a linksy feel with plenty of pot bunkers and some water. 

There are five sub-400-yard par-4s. The Bermuda rough is only 2 inches high and relatively dormant. 

Here are some other Pete Dye designs that are featured on the PGA Tour:

— Crooked Stick (2012 and 2016 BMW Championships)

— Concession (2021 WGC Workday)

— Harbour Town (RBC Heritage)

— Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship)

— TPC River Highlands (Travelers)

— TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic of New Orleans)

— TPC Sawgrass (The Players Championship)

— Whistling Straits (2010 and 2015 PGA Championships)

Recent Match Play Winners

— 2021: Billy Horschel (No. 32 seed); 80-1

— 2020: No event (COVID-19)

— 2019: Kevin Kisner (No. 48 seed); 80-1

— 2018: Bubba Watson (No. 35 seed); 50-1

— 2017: Dustin Johnson (No. 1 seed); 10-1

— 2016: Jason Day (No. 2 seed); 14-1

Trends and Angles

Before Kevin Kisner's victory in 2019, the previous five winners had won an event in one of their previous five starts heading into the Match Play. 

Also, here's a look at players to advance to the Round of 16 by seeding (since group play began in 2015):

— A group (1-16): 30.2%

— B group (17-32): 24.0%

— C group (33-48): 21.9%

— D group (49-64): 24.0%

​Records

​Here are the career match-play records and winning percentages (with ties counting as half of a win) for all 64 players in this week’s field. Records include matches from the WGC Match Play from 1999-2021, Ryder Cup singles, Presidents Cup singles and other worldwide events that include the Cisco/Volvo World Match Play, Paul Lawrie Match Play, ISPS Handa Match Play, Seve Trophy, Royal Trophy and Eurasia Cup:

— Kevin Kisner: 16-6-2 (71%)

— Alex Noren: 19-8 (70%)

— Ian Poulter: 47-19-5 (70%)

— Scottie Scheffler: 5-1-2 (69%)

— Patrick Cantlay: 7-3-1 (68%)

— Max Homa: 2-1 (67%)

— Billy Horschel: 11-6-1 (64%)

— Jon Rahm: 11-6-3 (63%)

— Mackenzie Hughes: 2-1-1 (63%)

— Brian Harman: 5-3-1 (61%)

— Patrick Reed: 17-11-4 (59%)

— Bubba Watson: 22-15-6 (58%)

— Brooks Koepka: 10-7-2 (58%)

— Abraham Ancer: 4-3 (57%)

— Paul Casey: 38-28-6 (57%)

— Louis Oosthuizen: 23-17-3 (57%)

— Tommy Fleetwood: 12-9-3 (56%)

— Dustin Johnson: 22-17-2 (56%)

— Sergio Garcia: 41-32-4 (56%)

— Xander Schauffele: 5-3-3 (54%)

— Jordan Spieth: 14-13-4 (52%)

— Justin Rose: 18-17-3 (51%)

— Lee Westwood: 38-36-2 (51%)

— Marc Leishman: 10-10-5 (50%)

— Tyrrell Hatton: 9-9-2 (50%)

— Tony Finau: 5-5-1 (50%)

— Sungjae Im: 2-2 (50%)

— Erik van Rooyen: 2-2 (50%)

— Robert McIntyre: 1-1-2 (50%)

— Joaquin Niemann: 1-1-2 (50%)

— Matthew Wolff: 1-1-1 (50%)

— Will Zalatoris: 1-1-1 (50%)

— Adam Scott: 21-22-1 (49%)

— Webb Simpson: 11-13-5 (47%)

— Justin Thomas: 10-12-1 (46%)

— Thomas Pieters: 4-5-3 (46%)

— Matthew Fitzpatrick: 10-13-1 (44%)

— Kevin Na: 9-12-2 (43%)

— Russell Henley: 4-6-1 (41%)

— Bryson DeChambeau: 3-5-1 (39%)

— Viktor Hovland: 1-2-1 (38%)

— Daniel Berger: 5-9 (36%)

— Jason Kokrak: 1-2 (33%)

— Keith Mitchell: 1-2 (33%)

— Shane Lowry: 7-16-3 (33%)

— Si Woo Kim: 3-8-3 (32%)

— Richard Bland: 1-3 (25%)

— Collin Morikawa: 0-2-2 (25%)

— Keegan Bradley: 1-11-4 (19%)

— Luke List: 1-5 (17%)

— Christian Bezuidenhout: 0-2-1 (17%)

— Talor Gooch: 0-2-1 (17%)

— Corey Conners: 0-3 (0%)

— Sebastian Munoz: 0-3 (0%)

— Lucas Herbert: First match

— Tom Hoge: First match

​— Takumi Kanaya: First match

— Min Woo Lee: First match

— Maverick McNealy: First match

— Seamus Power: First match

— Sepp Straka: First match

— Cameron Tringale: First match

— Harold Varner III: First match

— Cameron Young: First match

Statistical Analysis

​Strokes Gained Total: Pete Dye Designs (Last 36 Rounds)

This is not a normal week for stat modeling. However, there are a few broader categories that could give us an indication of who could potentially play well at Austin CC, including success at Pete Dye designs. 

1. Abraham Ancer, 77.2

2. Bryson DeChambeau, 64.5

3. Webb Simpson, 62.9

4. Paul Casey, 61

5. Dustin Johnson, 58.8

6. Brian Harman, 53.9

7. Keegan Bradley, 52.6

8. Patrick Cantlay, 50

9. Brooks Koepka, 48.6

10. Adam Scott, 46.3

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green on Courses Under 7,200 Courses (Last 36 Rounds)

1. Daniel Berger, 63.3

2. Justin Thomas, 61.7

3. Si Woo Kim, 55.4

4. Corey Conners, 53.7

5. Russell Henley, 52.4

6. Jon Rahm, 47.3

7. Webb Simpson, 46.7

8. Tony Finau, 46.1

9. Patrick Cantlay, 44.8

10. Abraham Ancer, 42

Strokes Gained: Approach (Last 36 Rounds) 

Iron play should be accounted for every week. 

1. Viktor Hovland, 39

2. Russell Henley, 37.9

3. Paul Casey, 34.3

4. Daniel Berger, 32.2

5. Will Zalatoris, 29.9

6. Tom Hoge, 29.5

7. Justin Thomas, 27.6

8. Shane Lowry, 26.6

9. Collin Morikawa, 23.3

10. Erik van Rooyen, 22.7

​Selections

Outright winners

— Patrick Cantlay (22-1)​

— Xander Schauffele (25-1)

— Russell Henley (45-1)

— Alex Noren (60-1)

— Erik Van Rooyen (130-1)

​Group 2 winner: Sergio Garcia (+ 260, BetMGM)

Collin Morikawa went 0-4 in singles matches across multiple events in 2021. Jason Kokrak looks out of form with just one top-20 finish in seven events in 2022. Robert MacIntyre came out of a group that included top overall seed Dustin Johnson last year, but Sergio Garcia is the most proven match player in this group and now makes his home in Austin. 

Group 4 winner: Patrick Cantlay (+ 180, BetMGM)

Cantlay is 5-3-1 at Austin CC and 7-3-1 in career singles matches but has never made it out of the group stage here. This is a good group that includes Keith Mitchell (defeated Ian Poulter in a 2019 match), Sungjae Im and Seamus Power. Nevertheless, Cantlay has proven to be a difficult man to take down in match play, partially due to his slow pace of play. 

Group 5 winner: Ian Poulter (+ 450, BetMGM)

This is one nominee for this year’s “group of death.” It includes Scottie Scheffler, last year's runner-up who has won twice over the last two months; Tommy Fleetwood, who has found some form and made it into the quarterfinals last year; and Matthew Fitzpatrick, who loves Dye courses but has never taken to this one. That leaves Poulter, who has little incoming form but a 9-3 singles record on this course. 

Group 7 winner: Xander Schauffele (+ 175, DraftKings)

Schauffele has a good record here but has never advanced out of the group stage. He has finished second in his pod all three times, including last year when he lost to Scheffler in extra holes. To get out of this group, he must get by Tony Finau, who has been out of form; Takumi Kanaya, who makes his event debut; and Lucas Herbert, also making his event debut. Xander should be motivated after three close calls. 

Group 10 winner: Alex Noren (+ 300, BetMGM)

This is an excellent group with all four players — Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey, Corey Conners and Noren — having a chance to advance to the knockout stage. Noren has the second-best winning percentage of anyone in this field at 70% and is the best putter in this group. 

Group 11 winner: Jordan Spieth (+ 268, Circa)

Adam Scott has putted better of late (ninth in the field for Strokes Gained: Putting over the last 24 rounds), but he has often skipped this event. Justin Rose doesn’t always play here either, and experience on a quirky course such as Austin CC may matter. Keegan Bradley is 0-2-4 here, though all six matches have gone to the 18th hole, including halves versus Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas. However, Spieth, who played his college golf in Austin, has a 9-5-3 record here. The missed cut at The Players can be ignored as he was on the bad side of the weather draw.

Group 13 winner: Tyrrell Hatton (+ 250, Circa)

Hatton ranks No. 1 in this field for Strokes Gained: Short Game over the last 24 rounds. He wasn’t good at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits last fall, but he is a solid enough match player, having reached the Round of 16 in 2018 and 2019. Although Si Woo Kim is a Pete Dye specialist, he has never been good in this event. Christiaan Bezuidenhout is special on and around the greens, but his ball striking is a bit erratic. Daniel Berger won two of three matches last year but has a 3-9 overall record at Austin CC. 

Group 14 winner: Russell Henley (+ 238, Circa)

Henley draws a group with rookie Maverick McNealy, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Na. Na is capable but in lousy form with missed cuts by a country mile at Riviera and Bay Hill. He also withdrew from The Players due to the birth of his child. Niemann has the best form of all with a victory at Riviera, but Henley gets the edge with slightly more experience in this event. 

​Corales Puntacana Championship

​While the world's best players are either taking this week off or playing at the WGC Match Play, the rest of the PGA Tour is in the Dominican Republic for the Corales Puntacana Championship. Jhonattan Vegas (16-1) is the tournament favorite, and he nearly won a PGA Tour alternate event last year at the Puerto Rico Open before finishing runner-up. Joel Dahmen (20-1) returns to defend his maiden PGA Tour title. Mark Hubbard (28-1) has two top-six finishes over the last few weeks on the Korn Ferry Tour. Sahith Theegala (28-1) nearly broke through for his first tour victory in Phoenix (third) and finished seventh last week at the Valspar Championship. Before missing the cut last week at the Valspar, Matthias Schwab (30-1) posted back-to-back seventh-place finishes at the Honda Classic and Puerto Rico Open. Brice Garnett (33-1) earned his lone PGA Tour victory here in 2018. Nate Lashley (33-1) won this event as well when it was part of the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017. 

The Corales Golf Club is located on the southeast 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 an easy, flat track with inland and coastal sections. The wind can blow, but there should be plenty of birdies. The fairways are wide and forgiving and the greens roll relatively slow at 11 on the stimpmeter. The course is gettable for both bombers and superior ball strikers, but the event will largely be decided by who gets hot with the putter.

Recent History/Winners

— 2021: Joel Dahmen (-12/276); 50-1

— 2020: Hudson Swafford (-18/270); 200-1

— 2019: Graeme McDowell (-18/270); 40-1

— 2018: Brice Garnett (-18/270); 66-1

​Selections

Adam Svensson (33-1)

Svensson ranks seventh in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach, 13th for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 18th for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green over the last 24 rounds. He finished sixth here in 2017. 

Greyson Sigg (50-1)

Sigg finished ninth on debut here last year. He has made six of seven cuts in 2022 and is ninth in this field for Strokes Gained: Approach over the last 24 rounds. 

Austin Smotherman (50-1)

Smotherman, a college teammate of Bryson DeChambeau at SMU, cut his teeth on PGA Tour Latinoamerica, so he is comfortable playing on coastal courses. He ranks sixth in the field for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and 12th for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green. 

Martin Kaymer (66-1)

Kaymer was 10th after 36 holes last week at the Valspar before weekend struggles dropped him to 49th. However, that was just his second event of the year due to the birth of his child. This is a drop in class for a two-time major champion at a big number.

Chase Seiffert (80-1)

Seiffert has a good history in windy conditions with a career-best third at the 2021 Honda Classic. He is third in this week's field for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green and 10th for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking. 

Qatar Masters

South African Shaun Norris, at a price of 66-1, concluded the DP World Tour's two-week sojourn to his native country by earning his first DP World Tour victory in the Steyn City Championship. He won by three strokes over tournament co-favorite and fellow South African Dean Burmester.

This week, the DP World Tour finishes off its early-season run in the Middle East with the Qatar Masters. After two years at Education City Golf Club, we’re heading back to the capital city at the Doha Golf Club. With many of the elite international players either at the WGC Match Play or the Corales Puntacana Championship, this week's field is very similar in  strength, or lack thereof, to the previous two weeks in South Africa. 

Burmester, the highest ranked player in the field (No. 64), is again the tournament favorite at 18-1. Adri Arnaus and Jordan Smith (both 22-1) were both in a playoff won by Pablo Larrazabal (35-1) two weeks ago. George Coetzee (22-1) was fourth two weeks ago and has five top-eight finishes in his last eight appearances in Doha, including two runners-up (2013, 2019). Nineteen-year-old South Korean Joohyung Kim (28-1) began his 2022 with a victory at the Singapore International on the Asian Tour and makes his debut in a DP World Tour-sanctioned event. Justin Harding (35-1) won this event the last time it was held in Doha. The last Qatar Masters winners, Antoine Rozner (2021, tipped in this column last year) and Jorge Campillo (2020) are priced at 50-1 and 60-1.

The Doha Golf Club is a par-72 of 7,401 yards. Several greens have been reshaped and all of them are covered in Paspalum, which we saw at Yas Links and Al Hamra as well as the Saudi International. Typically, the course has favored longer hitters in ideal weather conditions. Wayward drives aren’t punished as severely as other courses, but the exposed layout is particularly susceptible to wind, which brings the more controlled ball strikers into the mix.

Selections

George Coetzee (20-1)

Coetzee has two runners-up in Qatar. The South African also has had success at several correlated courses including Emirates Golf Club, Le Golf National and Dom Pedro Victoria, where he won the Portugal Masters in 2020.

Romain Langasque (30-1)

Langasque has four top 20s in six starts in 2022, including back-to-back top 10s the last two weeks in South Africa. The Frenchman ranks 10th in scrambling and 19th in GIR, providing further encouragement as to his chances in windy conditions.

Oliver Bekker (35-1)

Another South African makes the card here as Bekker has six top 10s in his last nine starts, including back-to-back ninth-place finishes at Ras al Khaimah, a course designed by Doha designer Peter Harradine. At 37, Bekker has seven wins on his home country’s Sunshine Tour and saw countryman Shaun Norris, also in his late 30s, win his first DP World Tour event last week. This looks an opportunity for his first considering an incoming form line of 3-11-8-9-9 in his last five starts.

Marcus Armitage (45-1)

Armitage has proven comfortable in windy conditions as evidenced by his win at the European Open last year. He has finishes of 12th in Dubai, ninth in Ras al Khaimah, 17th in Kenya and 11th at Pecanwood this season. 

Jorge Campillo (50-1)

Campillo won this event two years ago on a different course. He was also runner-up on this course in 2019 and tends to go well in windy conditions, with the 2020 win in Qatar and 2019 in Morocco. 

Hurly Long (66-1)

Courtesy of six top 10s last year on the Challenge Tour, the big-hitting German earned his way onto the DP World Tour, where he has finishes of 21st or better in four of five appearances. Finishes of third in the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, on a Harradine design, and second in the Kenya Open gives him the look of a player ready for a victory. 

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