The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play returns to Austin Country Club for the second time, with Jason Day set to defend this particular title for the second time in his career. The rest of the PGA TOUR will head to Coco Beach Golf and Country Club for the Puerto Rico Open, where Tony Finau earned his first win a year ago.
We will get to the Puerto Rico Open on the final page, but the majority of our time will be focused on the WGC.
As this is a different format than we see any other week on the TOUR, this preview will be a bit different. It will take a look at each of the four-man groups for a snapshot analysis of the overall group. At the end, we’ll offer a top five in terms of those with a best chance to win taking into account their path out of the group format.
Last season was the first at Austin Country Club. The 7,108 yards of par-71 golf ended with Louis Oosthuizen coming up short in 5&4 fashion to Jason Day. Perhaps ironically, given the length of the course, bombers populated the final four which also included Rory McIlroy and Rafa Cabrera Bello. That should be considered when constructing this year’s brackets.
In addition to current form, overall match play pedigree in amateur golf, Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups and other match play events are a signal to a player’s ability to handle this format.
Here we go!
Group 1 – Dustin Johnson (1), Jimmy Walker (18), Martin Kaymer (41) and Webb Simpson (58)
Analysis: DJ is on fire and he advanced out of his pool last year. Kaymer went 2-1, but was unable to advance. While Walker is playing in his home state, he’ll have his work cut out for him against both DJ and Kaymer. Simpson is a bit of a wildcard.
Pick: Don’t overthink the obvious. Dustin Johnson
Group 2 – Rory McIlroy (2), Emiliano Grillo (26), Gary Woodland (33) and Soren Kjeldsen (62)
Analysis: Rory’s recent play suggests that he’ll be fine here, but Woodland is no slouch in match play and Grillo seemed to find his groove last week at Bay Hill. It would be a shock if Kjeldsen factored. This one should come down to the McIlroy v. Woodland match.
Pick: McIlroy, but not without stress.
Group 3 – Jason Day (3), Marc Leishman (28), Lee Westwood (43) and Pat Perez (56)
Analysis: It’s impossible to ignore how strong Day has been in this tournament, regardless of venue. He has plenty of match play experience in the Presidents Cup to boot. This group is sneaky, though. Leishman enters off a win, Westy will be a gritty veteran and Perez is playing the best golf of his life.
Pick: All of that said, I can’t imagine Day being knocked off unless his health comes into play.
Group 4 – Hideki Matsuyama (4), Louis Oosthuizen (23), Ross Fisher (47) and Jim Furyk (51)
Analysis: Jim Furyk is pretty tough for a D-Player. Matsuyama has had a few off starts of late, and he’s greeted by last year’s runner-up in Louis Oosthuizen. The Japanese star went 2-1 in pool play last year, but was ousted by Cabrera Bello.
Pick: King Louis wins it, but watch out for Furyk.
Group 5 – Jordan Spieth (5), Ryan Moore (32), Yuta Ikeda (37) and Hideto Tanihara (54)
Analysis: Spieth in a home game seems to be a no-brainer, but Moore is very dangerous in match play going back to his amateur days when he won a U.S. Amateur. Both made it to bracket play last year, with Spieth falling in the not-so-sweet 16 and Moore losing a round later.
Pick: Ryan Moore in the upset.
Group 6 – Justin Thomas (6), Matthew Fitzpatrick (27), Kevin Na (46) and Chris Wood (49)
Analysis: Na was the best of this bunch in this event last year, but didn’t make bracket play. JT and Wood both went 0-3 and Fitzpatrick was 1-2.
Pick: I’ll take my chances with Fitzpatrick, as this course clearly didn’t fit Thomas or Wood.
Group 7 – Sergio Garcia (7), Jon Rahm (21), Kevin Chappell (38) and Shane Lowry (53)
Analysis: The Garcia v. Rahm match will be one of the most anticipated of the entire tournament. Garcia is a known commodity in match play and Rahm is a stud from his native Spain. Chappell hasn’t played well since the birth of his child a few months ago, and Lowry isn’t in any sort of groove either.
Pick: Rahm has already been bursting onto the scene in 2017, so why not step it up another notch with the win!
Group 8 – Alex Noren (8), Francesco Molinari (25), Bernd Wiesberger (36), Thongchai Jaidee (57)
Analysis: This is our first look at a weak foursome. Anyone could win this one, but I’ll lean on the player with the most top-shelf experience.
Pick: Molinari (holding my nose)
Group 9 – Patrick Reed (9), Brooks Koepka (20), Kevin Kisner (34) and Jason Dufner (59)
Analysis: Koepka’s current form is rubbish, but the Reed v. Kinser matchup should be a great one.
Pick: Never pick against Reed in match play. Yes. He’s shaking his finger at you through the screen if you are having any other ideas.
Group 10 – Tyrrell Hatton (10), Rafa Cabrera Bello (22), Jeunghun Wang (40) and Charles Howell III (61)
Analysis: Classic case of form meets history and Hatton and Cabrera Bello square off in an otherwise bland foursome.
Pick: Really tough call, but I’m concerned Hatton may be running out of gas soon. Give me Cabrera Bello.
Group 11 – Danny Willett (11), Russell Knox (17), Bill Haas (42) and K.T. Kim (64)
Analysis: Haas made it to the sweet 16 last year, which is more than anyone else in this group can say. None of the four excite me.
Pick: Bill Haas
Group 12 – Paul Casey (12), Charl Schwartzel (24), Byeong Hun An (45) and Joost Luiten (50)
Analysis: On paper, this is a two-horse race between Casey and Schwartzel. Don’t write off An, who is a former U.S. Amateur champion.
Pick: Schwartzel was a solid 2-1 last year, so he gets the nod.
Group 13 – Bubba Watson (13), Thomas Pieters (30), Scott Piercy (39) and Jhonattan Vegas (55)
Analysis: This has to be the weakest of all groups. Not sure I’d pick Bubba and his pink balls to win my club championship right now. Wouldn’t be surprised if this one came down to Piercy and Vegas.
Pick: Rolling the dice with Vegas.
Group 14 – Phil Mickelson (14), J.B. Holmes (31), Daniel Berger (35) and Si Woo Kim (63)
Analysis: I was briefly drawn to Berger until I saw that he was winless here last year. Mickelson went 2-1 last year, falling to Patrick Reed in the third round.
Pick: Anyone gets a pass for losing to Reed, so we’ll trust Lefty in this one.
Group 15 – Branden Grace (15), Brandt Snedeker (19), William McGirt (48) and Andy Sullivan (52)
Analysis: Snedeker’s putter versus Grace’s overall game. Sneds lost in the sweet 16 last year, but Grace performed fairly well in pool play.
Pick: Grace hasn’t had a top 10 in 2017, so Snedeker gets the nod.
Group 16 – Matt Kuchar (16), Tommy Fleetwood (29), Zach Johnson (44) and Brendan Steele (50)
Analysis: This is a toss-up from top to bottom. Kuchar and Johnson are gritty, match play veterans. Fleetwood is playing seriously well of late, while Steele has been steady in 2017.
Pick: I’ll take my chances with Fleetwood.
Five most likely to hoist the hardware counting down!
4. Patrick Reed
3. Dustin Johnson
2. Jason Day
1. Phil Mickelson
Puerto Rico Open
While the course name changed before 2016, Coco Beach Golf & CC has hosted every edition of the Puerto Rico Open. It is a par-72 layout of 7,506 yards. A bomber (Tony Finau) won last year, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case in all editions.
Here are five expected contenders, along with five first-timers who could contend.
Scott Brown – Course horse, with three top fives (four top 10s) including a win in five trips. Tied for second in the Genesis Open, but the rest of 2017 has been a disappointment.
Graham DeLaet – Tied for 11th in his fourth trip to Puerto Rico last year and never finished outside of the top 25s. Broke a streak of four consecutive top 25s with a MC at Bay Hill last week.
David Hearn – Hasn’t played here since 2014, but all three of his visits have been top 25s. After a horrible start to 2017, he’s shown signs of life lately by making his last three cuts including a T18 at the Valspar Championship.
Luke List – He’s made both of his cuts, with a T15 last year the best. If there is to be a first-time bomber win again this year, it’s likely to be List.
Boo Weekley – Certainly past his prime, but this is one of his hot spots. He has three top 10s in six visits.
Puerto Rico Rookies to watch:
Wesley Bryan – Hot rookie is similar to several others from the Southeastern United States that have played well here in that he’s a strong putter.
Chris Kirk – One of the classier players in the field, Kirk has struggled of late which is likely prompting his inclusion this week.
Graeme McDowell – G-Mac picked off a win at Mayakoba in 2015 under similar circumstances. Had back-to-back top 14s before sliding down the board a bit last week.
J.T. Poston – Three consecutive top 30s have the rookie likely feeling optimistic.
Harold Varner III – The sophomore is due to breakthrough sometime in the not-too-distant future. It would be speeding things up a bit to do so this week, but why not?
Best of luck to all!