WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Preview
The PGA TOUR takes a breather from the week-to-week grind of stroke-play events. It's the WGC-Match Play.
If you filled out an NCAA bracket last week, you should be nice and warmed up for the process of filling out another bracket. The first week of the basketball tournament should be a good reminder for us, upsets happen. A lot.
The skill gap between the top golfer in the world and the 78th-ranked golfer is just not that big. Just keep that in mind when trying to plug in your picks this week.
Austin Country Club returns to host another edition of the event. It's the last year currently scheduled, so this is our last taste of match play until they work out the logistics of a new partnership and/or course.
This Pete Dye design is hosting for the seventh time.
Looking at the scorecard we see a par 71 that plays to 7,108 yards.
It's a good mix of holes as five of the par 4s play under 410 yards while four of them play over 460 yards.
Rolling terrain and firm conditions keep this playable for all levels of distance. The bombers are not at a huge advantage because short knockers can get a lot of roll on their drives as long as they keep it in the short stuff.
Water is in play on seven holes and it's one of the main defenses of the course. The other defenses are weather as it's often very windy here and pin placements. With head-to-head matchups instead of stroke-play scoring, the TOUR is more willing to throw out brutal pin positions. As Tiger put it in 2021, "These pins are probably half a step harder than they would be in stroke play. So they're putting them in spots where, yeah, we can potentially putt off greens, chip of greens, balls are careening into tough spots. But it's match play, it's kinds of irrelevant. If you make a triple and you win the hole. No one really cares what your score is at the end of the day in relation to par."
The overseeded greens are heavily sloped and very willing to reject average approach shots. Golfers really have to use all of their short-game skills when playing Austin CC.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Justin Rose in 2019: "It doesn't suit any type of player or any type of golf. It's really tricky right now. It's like a Valderrama almost in some ways. With the wind blowing, you've got to hit shots. By that I mean there's no standard stock shot out here, you're trying to hold it against the wind, knock it down. You're always trying to do something, fit the ball into the green. So it demands a lot of your game. The short game around here is really tricky, which is great preparation going into the Masters. You get a lot of similar style chips."
Dustin Johnson in 2019: "I don't think it's just a golf course that suits long hitters. You've got to hit a lot of different shots, a lot of good shots. I just think it's really an all around good golf course."
Corey Conners in 2021: "The greens stood out to me as being really challenging. There's a lot of slope on the greens, and it will be important to get yourself in the right spot on the greens to give yourself chances at birdie. Missing some of the greens in the wrong spot can be quite penalizing as well."
Tricky is a word that gets tossed around a lot with Austin Country Club.
Golfers to Watch
He arrives with wins in two of his last four starts while also laying claim to the title of defending champ. It's easy to see why the World No. 1 golfer is also the pre-tournament betting favorite this week. If he pulled off another win he would join Tiger Woods (2003, 2004) as the only golfers to win this in back-to-back years.
He reportedly made some tweaks to his equipment setup during a recent visit to Augusta National. McIlroy has been struggling to find comfort with his driver since switching things up ahead of Riv due to his old driver getting too hot. While his driving hasn't been poor in recent weeks, perhaps having some comfort will allow him to work more on his putter again which has been letting him down in recent events.
He's working on some swing changes and struggling in the process. He has four missed cuts and a solo 75th in the lead-up to this event. On the flip side, he's piled up 22 match wins at Austin Country Club which is five more than anyone else in the world (Dustin Johnson, 17) and six more than anyone else in the field (Matt Kuchar, 16). Kisner will need to rely on that course fit/history/experience this week if he wants to play his way out of group stage.
Unlike Kisner, Day is someone who worked their way through swing changes and is coming out on the other side. The Aussie arrives with finishes of T21 in 10 of his last 11 starts. He's also a two-time winner of the WGC-Match Play, once at Dove Mountain and once at Austin CC.
The Spaniard made it to the title match here in 2017 but lost to Dustin Johnson. McIlroy and Scheffler both have WGC-Match Play titles on their resume so I'm sure Rahm would love to match them with a big win this week. It would also help him get back on track ahead of the Masters, after settling for T39 at the API and being forced to WD at THE PLAYERS due to illness.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Scottie Scheffler
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Patrick Cantlay
5. Tony Finau
6. Xander Schauffele
7. Max Homa
8. Jason Day
9. Viktor Hovland
10. Tyrrell Hatton
11. Sungjae Im
12. Collin Morikawa
13. Will Zalatoris
14. Jordan Spieth
15. Cameron Young
16. Tom Kim