WGC MATCH PLAY: The professional golf world has undergone a seismic shakeup over the past year, with the LIV millions luring a handful of PGA and European Tour stars away from their traditional circuits and forcing the PGA Tour to react by completely restructuring its own schedule, creating a series of “Designated Events” featuring inflated purses and, beginning in 2024, limited fields with no 36-hole cut.
One of the casualties of these changes is the World Golf Championships series, a set of tournaments that has functioned as a sort of “majors-lite” for the past 20+ years, with major championship-quality fields, large purses, and impressive host courses. They will cease to exist after this year– after this week, as a matter of fact– and so this is the final WGC Match Play, and it sounds like the Tour isn’t expected to replace it with an officially sanctioned match play event, at least not for the foreseeable future. So, if you like the format, if you’re a true match play lover who relishes the quirks, strategy, and drama of head-to-head golf, you’d better do all you can to soak in these next five days.
The format is unchanged from last year: the 64-man field has been divided into sixteen 4-man groups, with the three “group play” matches set to take place on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The winners of each group will then play a single elimination, 16-man tournament over the weekend, with the Round of 16 and the quarterfinal matches taking place on Saturday and the semifinals, third-place match, and championship match being held on Sunday. It’s a long, draining week for those who survive– you’ve got to be ready to play 7 matches over a 5-day period.
The grueling schedule is probably why 42-year-old Justin Rose withdrew from the field this week, but the only other eligible player who is not here, World No. 10 Justin Thomas, was more straightforward about his reasons for staying home: he doesn’t like the golf course. This is the sixth year that Austin Country Club has played host to this event, and though it’s a visually striking course with several risk/reward shots that make it well-suited for match play, Thomas isn’t alone in his opinion that it isn’t Pete Dye’s best work. A par-71 that measures just 7,043 yards, it’s rather short by Tour standards, but it definitely favors the bombers, as the list of recent champions makes quite clear. Scottie Scheffler got the job done last year, and after his dominating performance at TPC Sawgrass it’s no surprise to see him atop BETDAQ’s Win Market at 10.0. We’re looking for good drivers of the ball this week and of course players with a history of success in this format, and Scheffler certainly ticks both boxes. That being said, the price is a bit short for my liking, especially with all the other intriguing options scattered throughout the market. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Rory McIlroy (17.0)- Though his extended run of brilliance was interrupted at TPC Sawgrass, where he missed his first cut since last summer, McIlroy is likely to bounce back in a big way this week at a course, and in a format, where he feels very comfortable. He won this event in 2015, just before it moved to Austin Country Club, but he’s convincingly demonstrated his ability to tame Austin CC in recent years, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how good he is with the driver in his hands. Importantly, I believe Rory has a good draw this week, with a group that includes Keegan Bradley, Denny McCarthy, and Scott Stallings, three players he should beat, and a bracket that would allow him to avoid players like Scheffler, Max Homa, Patrick Cantlay, and Viktor Hovland until the final match. He’s worth a bet– the price won’t look so short come Saturday.
Cameron Young (34.0)- This is only Young’s second appearance at this event and last year was a bit of a disappointment, as he beat Patrick Reed but lost to Jon Rahm and Sebastian Munoz, failing to advance beyond the group stage. His game has come a long way since then, though, and he’s off to a great start this season, going 10-for-10 in cuts made and finishing 26th or better seven times, including three top-10s. He’s been absolutely puring the ball, ranking 12th on Tour in strokes gained off the tee and 16th in strokes gained on approach, so he should be well-equipped to take on Austin CC, and his group draw this week is very manageable, with Sepp Straka, Corey Conners, and Davis Thompson the three players he has to get past. I think he’ll do it, and he certainly has the game to surprise some folks over the weekend. Don’t sleep on Young at better than 30/1.
Matt Kuchar (100.0)- Old man river keeps on rolling, and though Kuchar hasn’t been seen on the first page of a leaderboard since last month’s Genesis Invitational, he’s shown this season that he still has some tread left on the tires, finishing 35th or better 7 times in 11 starts and finding the top-15 four times. And when you put this man in a match play format, look out– Kuchar boasts a career match play singles record of 35-18-5 (h/t Adam Sarson), and he’s advanced beyond the group stage of this tournament in 4 of his last 5 appearances, advancing all the way to the final match in 2019 and to the semifinals in 2021. He’s a tough nut to crack in a head-to-head situation, and nothing about his recent form would suggest that it’s going to be any different this year. He’s an absolute must-bet at a price like 100.0.