If the college basketball March Madness action wasn't enough for you last week, golf has its own version in Texas this week as the world's best congregate one final time before the Masters, which starts in just two weeks (!). Though a handful of the top players in the world will be absent this week, we still get a very different look at the professional game through the lens in which it was originally created -- match play.
As some of the memories below will remind you, that generally provides us with some tremendous moments throughout the week as the best in the world look to capture a win at the first World Golf Championship event of the year. Let's take a closer look at this week's contest with odds provided via Caesar's Sportsbook.
Event: WGC-Dell Match Play | Dates: March 23-27
Location: Austin Country Club – Austin, Texas
Par: 71 | Purse: $12 million
Three things to know
1. Bryson DeChambeau returns: This time last year, Bryson DeChambeau was the biggest story in the sport. Following his preposterous driving show (and win) at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as well as his near-miss at The Players Championship, expectations were extraordinarily high for him at Augusta National in 2021. One year later -- we'd just like to see him swing a club. He'll do that this week in Austin for the first time at a PGA Tour event since he missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open back in January. A wrist and hip injury forced him to withdraw from the Saudi International, and he hasn't been seen at a tournament since then.
I'm not sure what we'll see from DeChambeau this week or what to expect over the next month (Augusta included). He has not played good golf since last year's FedEx Cup Playoffs (as well as the Ryder Cup), and he has not played much at all in general. He's 209th in the FedEx Cup standings and has fallen to No. 13 in the world. This might be emblematic of how his career goes -- extreme peaks and valleys, all documented on YouTube. Perhaps that's the destiny of somebody so intent on pushing, to his credit, every limit he can find.
2. Unique format: Some of my favorite individual moments of the last several years have come from this event. It's so different from the normal 72-hole stroke-play format usually played on the PGA Tour that it can create bizarre situations (which I absolutely love). Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez getting into it at Harding Park, Kevin Na teaching Dustin Johnson how match play works after he didn't concede but D.J. scooped his putt and Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar going through a similar experience (albeit more animated than Na-D.J.) in Austin three years ago. The unique nature of this event engenders some friction between competitors, and that's always a good thing for fans looking for drama in an otherwise genteel event (and sport).
3. Masters precursor: The timing often feels a bit odd, but this is the last event in which we'll see most of the best players in the world before Thursday morning at Augusta National. For some, that means one final opportunity to play their way into the field. For others, it means dialing in their games for the first major of 2022. Regardless of intent, this is an intriguing sub-story to follow all week in Austin as we try to formulate not only who will win this week but who feels best going down Magnolia Lane.
Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Greg DuCharme and Jonathan Coachman to preview the 2022 WGC Match Play and discuss the biggest headlines in golf this week. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Grading the field
The only players of significance who won't tee it up this week are Rory McIlroy, Cam Smith, Hideki Matsuyama and Sam Burns. They represent one-third of the top 12 players in the world, so we shouldn't dismiss their absences as they presumably prep for Augusta in two weeks, but this is still the second-best field of the year behind The Players Championship, and the new format of pool play from Wednesday-Friday ensures that the best in the world get at least three matches in. Grade: A+
The rules for this event were changed so that every player is guaranteed three rounds. Group play takes place from Wednesday to Friday as each golfer in the four-golfer pods faces one of the other three golfers in his pod in an 18-hole match-play round (one round per day, and you play everyone in your pod by Friday). The top performer in each pod (16 total) will advance to Saturday's knockout round. Two match-play rounds are played on Saturday, and two are played on Sunday before a champ is crowned at the end of the week.
Group scoring: 1 point for a win, 0.5 points for a tie and 0 points for a loss. Whichever player in each pod has the most points at the end of three matches advances. If there is a tie (or if multiple players are tied), there will be a sudden-death playoff on Friday.
Here's a look at all 16 groups going into Wednesday's festivities (the top 16 seeds were determined by Official World Golf Ranking).
- Group 1: Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, Cameron Young, Sebastian Munoz
- Group 2: Collin Morikawa, Jason Kokrak, Sergio Garcia, Robert Macintyre
- Group 3: Viktor Hovland, Will Zalatoris, Cameron Tringale, Sepp Straka
- Group 4: Patrick Cantlay, Sungjae Im, Seamus Power, Keith Mitchell
- Group 5: Scottie Scheffler, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter
- Group 6: Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Luke List
- Group 7: Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Lucas Herbert, Takumi Kanaya
- Group 8: Dustin Johnson, Max Homa, Matthew Wolff, Mackenzie Hughes
- Group 9: Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Lee Westwood, Richard Bland
- Group 10: Louis Oosthuizen, Paul Casey, Corey Conners, Alex Noren
- Group 11: Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley
- Group 12: Billy Horschel, Thomas Pieters, Tom Hoge, Min Woo Lee
- Group 13: Tyrrell Hatton, Daniel Berger, Si Woo Kim, Christiaan Bezuidenhout
- Group 14: Joaquin Niemann, Kevin Na, Russell Henley, Mverick McNealy
- Group 15: Abraham Ancer, Webb Simpson, Brian Harman, Bubba Watson
- Group 16: Brooks Koepka, Shane Lowry, Harold Varner III, Erik van Rooyen
WGC-Dell Match Play picks
|Winner (50-1): Other than Rahm, he's been the best ball-striker in the world over his last 20 rounds. Am I excited about all those 4-footers players will make him putt out in this event? I am not, but he'll be well-rested and ready to go the distance here while (hopefully) just ball-striking the rest of the field into oblivion in the process. |
|Quarterfinalist (35-1 to win): Lowry has been awesome all year and hasn't finished outside the top 25 in any event since the calendar flipped. I like his pool, too. He gets Harold Varner III and Erik van Rooyen, both of whom are quality players but not as talented as Lowry. Then the top seed in his bracket is Brooks Koepka, who played some good golf last week but might not flip the switch in Austin. It's a good spot for Lowry to do some damage.|
|Sleeper (80-1): Hoge has been the ninth-best ball-striker in this field over his last 20 rounds, and though he's new to this event and not a big name, his ball-striking has been on par with Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas of late. Data Golf predicts that he has a 30% chance of getting out of his pool, which is about as high as you're going to get from somebody seeded that low. Once you get into the final 16, anything can happen. Hoge is my favorite "wait ... who?" player right now for those who haven't been following closely in 2022. He has four top 15s in his last nine and is a little all-or-nothing with a win and three missed cuts mixed in. That's what you want from sleepers.|