A look at each of the six WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play events at Austin Country Club
AUSTIN, Texas — It seemed a match made in heaven, a glitzy, emerging tech center, a golf course that sparkles along the Colorado River (under the picturesque Pennybacker Bridge) and all in a format that pits the best players in the world against each other in match play.
After moving the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play event to Texas’ capital in 2016, large crowds and Lone Star hospitality made the event one of the most popular on the PGA Tour.
But with word that the event will close up shop after the upcoming 2023 edition, we decided to take a walk down memory lane and look at the six winners who raised the Walter Hagen Trophy at Austin Country Club.
2016: Jason Day moves to No. 1
Jason Day and Rory McIlroy, shown at the 2016 WGC-Dell Match Play.
On Wednesday his back was out of whack and his future was in doubt. Then on Saturday, he became No. 1 in the world.
And on Easter Sunday, he won his second consecutive tournament, capturing the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Championship at Austin Country Club. Day first defeated No. 3 and defending champion Rory McIlroy in a heavyweight tussle Sunday morning in the semifinals, 1 up, and then beat down Louis Oosthuizen in the final, 5 and 4.
Day’s collection of power, precision and superb putting and chipping proved too much for his seven vanquished opponents this week. He needed only 102 holes to win the championship, which marked his ninth PGA Tour title and sixth win in his last 13 worldwide starts. Day also won the 2014 Match Play Championship in Arizona.
The Aussie could barely finish his first match of the week against Graeme McDowell after tweaking his back on the 15th hole. But he defeated McDowell, got 10 hours of treatment from there on through Sunday and added wins against Thongchai Jaidee and Paul Casey in pool play. He then sent Brandt Snedeker home in the round of 16 and Brooks Koepka in the quarterfinals. His win against Koepka made him No. 1.
2017: Confident Dustin Johnson takes down rookie Jon Rahm
Dustin Johnson holds up his son Tatum before receiving The Walter Hagen Trophy after beating Jon Rahm in the final of the 2017 World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Photo: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)
You don’t mess with Texas. Tangling with Dustin Johnson isn’t wise, either.
The world No. 1 beat up Austin Country Club and handled seven opponents en route to winning the Match Play. He capped his week by winning two tight tussles on Sunday, digging deep to beat Hideto Tanihara, 1 up, in the semifinals, and then rookie Jon Rahm, 1 up, in the final on a sun-drenched Sunday by the Colorado River.
“I’m playing pretty well,” said Johnson, a man of few words who has become an overpowering presence with his length, iron play and putter. “Today was a tough day, a really long day. I’m proud of the way I played.
“Obviously I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game.”
His firepower was so assertive he didn’t trail in any match (he played 112 holes), won the first hole six of seven times, and reached the 18th hole just twice all week. And the few times his matches got tight, Johnson kept his opponent at bay. He was 4 up with six to play but wasn’t unnerved when Rahm won three of the next four holes, closing out with a par on the final hole.
“It’s amazing how he’s able to keep cool the entire round,” said Rahm, who beat Bill Haas, 3 and 2, in the semis. “He’s just a perfect, complete player.”
2018: Still a kid, Bubba Watson tops Kevin Kisner
Bubba Watson holds up the Water Hagen Cup trophy after beating Kevin Kisner in the final of the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Photo: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)
Bubba Watson scored a 7-and-6 win over Kevin Kisner in the final.
“I’m a kid who happens to be 39 now,” Watson said. “Somehow I keep getting trophies and I don’t know how. It’s just a dream. I could never see this vision.”
It was the 11th win of Watson’s career and second of the season after his victory at last month’s Genesis Open.
Kisner reached the finals with a 19-hole victory over Alex Noren, who was 5-0 on the week entering the semis. He said his legs felt like Jell-O when the final round began and described his emotions throughout the round as “helpless” and “lonely.”
“It was just pitiful, man,” Kisner said. “I was trying to keep a good attitude, but it was tough. Just a long week and I was probably worn out a little bit and a little fatigued. Once it started going bad, no way to right the ship.”
2019: Kevin Kisner finally gets that trophy, besting Matt Kuchar
Kevin Kisner with caddie Duane Bock celebrates winning the final round of the 2019 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Photo: Stephen Spillman-USA TODAY Sports)
This time, Kevin Kisner went one better.
The scrappy Georgia Bulldog, who spent years on the back roads of professional golf playing anywhere he could, toppled Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2, to win the Match Play on a Sunday that started in bitter cold and closed in radiant sunshine.
In 2018, Kisner lost in the final to Bubba Watson, clearly running out of gas against the big-hitting lefty in the 7-and-6 rout. But in the 2019 final, Kisner, the 48th seed, grabbed the lead with a birdie on the first from 11 feet and never trailed in the match. He closed it out with a 20-foot birdie on the 16th.
“I was thinking out there it might be the hardest (tournament to win) just because you have the physical aspect more than any other week,” Kisner said. “It was grueling, definitely with the winds, the temperature today. Overall it was a long week, but I prevailed and I’m a world golf champion.”
Kuchar, who was trying to win his 10th PGA Tour title, beat Tyrrell Hatton in the Sweet 16, Sergio Garcia in the quarterfinals and Lucas Bjerregaard in the semifinals. But Kuchar, the 23rd seed, didn’t have an answer for Kisner.
“It’s tough to maintain the high level of play the entire tournament,” Kuchar said. “You hope to do it and I feel like I’ve kind of built a game that I could rely on playing some good, steady golf. But I gave too many holes away.
“It’s one of the things I pride myself on is not ever giving holes away. I knew against Kisner I couldn’t do it, and he just plodded along and played good, steady golf, and let me make mistakes. And that was good playing by Kevin.”
Kisner joined Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan, Paul Casey and Geoff Ogilvy as the only players to reach the finals in back-to-back years.
2020: Canceled due to the COVID pandemic
2021: Billy Horschel eases his way past Scottie Scheffler
Billy Horschel shakes hands with Scottie Scheffler after winning 2 and 1 in the final of the 2021 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
So much for excruciating work, long hours and exhaustive prep being the only paths to success in the golf world.
Billy Horschel primed for a busy week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play with the exact opposite approach — taking his family for a much-needed spring break vacation in his home state of Florida.
Who’s to challenge the results? After not touching a club or practicing for a week, Horschel put together a stretch to remember at Austin Country Club, winning weekend matches over Kevin Streelman, Tommy Fleetwood and then Victor Perez to reach the final.
As the winds picked up on Sunday afternoon, Horschel looked rested and relaxed as he downed Scottie Scheffler, 2 and 1, to claim the title. Horschel, who hadn’t won a sanctioned PGA Tour event since taking the 2018 Zurich Classic with Scott Piercy and an individual title since the 2017 AT&T Byron Nelson, credited the extended break for the hop in his step.
“I think mentally it was the key. I played really well at Concession; felt good about my game, and go to Bay Hill and Players and play really bad,” Horschel said on Sunday. “So it was just a great mental reboot to spend time with family, my kids, my aunt and uncle, my cousins and their kids. It was just nice. I don’t think we’ve been on a family vacation I don’t think ever because of me that didn’t have clubs involved.”
2022: Scottie Scheffler wins for third time in five starts
Scottie Scheffler holds the Walter Hagen Cup after defeating Kevin Kisner in the final of the 2022 World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. (Photo: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports)
When Scottie Scheffler was playing at the University of Texas, head coach John Fields would often follow the young prodigy, offering a number and some fatherly advice when it seemed appropriate.
Fields noticed that when he did so, Scheffler would often struggle, forcing something that simply didn’t come naturally.
But when Fields stayed quiet and let Scheffler visualize and execute his own shot, that’s when the magic would happen.
“He just had to see it himself,” Fields said this week. “He had to be his own person.”
On Sunday, Scheffler got to see it all himself: a third PGA Tour victory in five starts, a $2.1 million top prize, and the summit of an amazing hike that’s expected to see him become the No. 1 golfer in the world by virtue of his victory at the Match Play.
All in the town where he cut his teeth as a collegian.
Scheffler finished off an incredible week with a pair of convincing victories, first getting 5 up on Dustin Johnson through 11 before winning 3 and 1, then rolling past match-play stalwart Kevin Kisner, 4 and 3 in the final to earn the title.
The former Longhorn, who won three Big 12 Championships while attending his alma mater just a handful of miles from Austin Country Club, said confidence and consistency have been the keys to his ascent.
“I’d say just like anything out here, you kind of have to see your own shot. I think I’ve really worked hard at being more consistent with my ball-striking since I was in college,” said Scheffler, who has won three times in five starts and has ascended with caddie Ted Scott on his bag. “In college, I kind of fought my swing a little bit, and as I’ve turned pro I feel like I’ve improved in a few aspects of my game and just gotten more comfortable. Through the work I’ve put in I’ve just gained some more confidence, and I feel like I have a lot of different shots that we can kind of use.”