WGC Dell Match Play: Leishman primed to keep the Aussie run going, says The Punter

Branden Grace – one of The Punter’s picks in Texas
Branden Grace – one of The Punter’s picks in Texas

The draws been made and the action starts tomorrow so read Steve's in-depth preview of the WGC Dell Match Play here...


“Australians are enjoying an incredible run on both tours this year and Leishman has all the credentials to get in on the action and bag himself a big title this week. His match play record isn’t expansive but it’s very solid. I think the course will suit him nicely and he has a very fine record in Texas.”

Tournament History

The WGC Match Play was first staged in California in 1999 when Jeff Maggert beat Andrew Magee.

After a couple of years at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsford, California, the event went Down Under but few of the game's star names could be bothered to travel that far and it's been held in the States ever since.

After six years at Dove Mountain, the tournament was staged at Harding Park last year but we switch again this time around, to the Austin Country Club in Texas.


Format

This event hasn't been without its teething problems. First we had the failed attempt to travel the globe and in recent years we've had constant murmurings that the majority of players didn't like Dove Mountain, but the biggest problem has been sponsorship.

The old straight knock-out format saw many a star name on their way home after just one day and that's not ideal for the players or the sponsors so something had to change. I used to quite enjoy the first round, with 32 matches creating all sorts of shocks, but I did tend to lose interest as the event progressed and I can see why it changed last year.

We now have 16 groups of four so everyone gets to play at least three matches. Players and sponsors are both happier and it should safeguard the tournament for many years to come. Dell are signed up for the next four years so the decision to change from a straight knock-out to a group format has already been vindicated.

The tournament is supposed to be for the top-64 in the world rankings but Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk are missing.

The top-16 ranked players are all seeded and have been kept apart in 16 groups. Over the first three days, starting tomorrow, each player in each group plays each other to determine who progresses. The player with the best record in each of the four player groups advances to the Round of 16 for single-elimination match play (in the event of a two-way tie in a group, head-to-head match results will be used as the tiebreaker; a three-way tie will require a sudden-death stroke play hole by hole play-off).

On Saturday morning the winners of each group (groups here) meet in the round of 16, as per the draw here, with the quarter-finals being staged on Saturday afternoon. The semi-finals and final, as well as the third place play-off, or consolation match, will be played on Sunday.

In a change to last year's format, group games can now been drawn and they won't go beyond 18 holes. In the event of a tie, both players will be awarded ½ point.


Venue

Austin Country Club, Austin, Texas
Par 71, 7,043 yards


Course Details

The Pete Dye designed Austin Country Club Course, created in 1980, isn't long at just a shade over 7,000 yards. Situated by the shores of Lake Austin and carved through cedar and oak woodland, it looks very easy on the eye and with four reachable par fives and a drivable par four, we could witness plenty of drama this week.

We'll learn a lot about the venue as the week wares on and lessons need to be learnt. Austin Country Club will be the host venue for at least the next three years.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky all five days, beginning tomorrow.


Last Five Winners

2015 - Rory McIlroy
2014 - Jason Day
2013 - Matt Kuchar
2012 - Hunter Mahan
2011 - Luke Donald


What Will it Take to Win The WGC Dell Match Play?

The course isn't long and reportedly not very tight either, so it should be quite an easy test but we are forecast a bid of breeze throughout the week at various times so good wind players could be advantaged.

Plenty of match play experience is always a plus so check out the results of previous renewals of this event, the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup, the Eurasia Cup and on the European Tour, the Volvo World Match Play and the brand new Paul Lawrie Match Play but for a brilliant easy to assess look at all the form for all the players, check out Adam Sarson's brilliant work here.


Is There an Angle-In?

It's quite a long drawn out tournament and if you're going to go all the way, you need to play 36 holes on both Saturday and Sunday and I just wonder if that favours the youngsters slightly. Jim Furyk made the semis 12 months ago and Ernie Els reached the last four in 2014 but neither made the final and both lost their respective consolation matches. It's a long and tiring week, both physically and mentally, and if you're tossing up between a vet and youngster, I'd go for the latter.

Match play is a very different format to stroke play and players don't have to worry about how umpteen others are doing elsewhere on the course. They have just one opponent to beat at a time and some of the most difficult to win with in stroke play thrive in this format. If you're a little concerned about someone you fancy to play well's temperament in-the-mix, don't let it put you off in this event.

I would consider a player's temperament in-contention when assessing his price in a stroke play event but it's not something I'd worry about in this format. I would worry if they didn't have much match play experience though.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

With numerous day one shocks caused by a straight off knock-out draw, many would suggest this tournament has always been a bit of a lottery but it's been far from it and now they've changed the format to help stop the better players from getting eliminated immediately, it's even less of a lottery. Last year's winner, Rory McIlroy, was the pre-event favourite but even before the format change outsiders haven't really figured.

Jason Day was just a 20/1 shot in 2014 and, Hunter Mahan, four years ago, who was matched at 60.059/1 before the off, is the biggest priced winner we've had since Geoff Ogilvy won the first of his two titles 10 years ago. The only genuinely surprising winner in the event's entire history was Kevin Sutherland in 2002.

Steve Stricker caused a bit of a surprise when winning in 2001 but he went on to become an esteemed Ryder Cup player and even inaugural champion, Jeff Maggert, who went off at 81.080/1, played in three Ryder Cups, and that's the best place to start.

Previous experience of the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Ryder Cup has so far proven invaluable. Three years ago, six of the last eight were all experienced Ryder Cuppers and Robert Garrigus, who succumbed to eventual winner, Matt Kuchar 3 & 2 in the quarter-finals, was the only one that could be described as not having significant team match play experience. The other non Ryder-Cupper was last year's winner, Day, but he had plenty of Presidents Cup experience anyway.

The last eight winners have not only been great match play specialists, they've also had previous event form in the bag. It's oh so easy to be seduced by great players at huge odds but if they haven't shown any event form yet you may need to worry and if they've got no event form and haven't played in the Ryder Cup either or at the very least, the Presidents Cup, you may have to think again.


Market Leaders

Defending champion, Rory McIlroy, is only the number three seed but he heads the market and he's a worthy favourite. He's a magnificent match play exponent with the best record in the tournament and a successful defence is a distinct possibility. I can see him easily progressing out of his group, where he faces Kevin Na, Smylie Kaufman and Thorbjorn Olesen and I wouldn't put anyone off backing him.

Having reached the semis in 2013, and having won the event in 2014, Jason Day has plenty of tournament form to boast and he comes here after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday but a couple of things put me off. It's hard to go again so soon after victory, he lost every match in this format last year and he's in a very tough group consisting of Paul Casey, Thongchai Jaidee and Graeme McDowell. Progression out of the group for the number two seed is by no means a given.

Although he has to get the better of his good friend Justin Thomas, the draw looks to have been quite kind to the number one seed, Jordan Spieth, and I fancy him to emerge triumphant over Thomas, an out-of-sorts European pair, Victor Dubbuisson and Jamie Donaldson.

Playing in his home state, he's one of just a handful that will know the course really well and I think it'll suit him. Spieth's match play record isn't too shabby either. He reached the last eight in this event two years ago and he won two of his three group matches last year before losing out to Lee Westwood. He's finished runner-up in three of his last home state starts but this represents a decent chance to get off the mark in front of his adoring fans and he's a fair price.

Of all the market leaders, Adam Scott is the one I like the least. He's been on a fabulous run of form but he finally hit the buffers last week in Florida and his event form is really poor. He's a great team match play exponent and he clearly raises his game for the Presidents Cup been he's been woeful in this tournament of late. He lost all three group matches last year and he went out in the first round in the previous three renewals, losing to Ben Crane, Robert Rock and Tim Clark.


Selections

I always get myself in something of a tangle with this event and I'm not going to pretend it's one I like from a betting perspective. It's a fabulous spectacle and a nice change from stroke play but it's a minefield to bet on and stakes have been kept to a minimum.

I backed five players prior to the draw and now that the draw's been made, I've added one more. And that's plenty - especially given three of them are in the same quarter!

In the top quarter, I've backed Jordan Spieth (placed before the draw) and should he go all the way to the semi-finals he'll hopefully meet the player I thought was the best value this week - Marc Leishman.

Australians are enjoying an incredible run on both tours this year and Leishman has all the credentials to get in on the action and bag himself a big title this week. His match play record isn't expansive but it's very solid. In two Presidents Cup's singles matches he's beaten Spieth and Matt Kuchar and he won all three group games in this event last year before getting eliminated by the eventual runner-up, Gary Woodland.

I think the course will suit him nicely and he has a very fine record in Texas. He absolutely hacked up here in the WNB Classic in windy conditions on the Web.com Tour back in 2008, winning by an incredible 11 strokes, and he's twice finished third in the Byron Nelson Championship. He won't care how windy it gets. I backed him yesterday at 80.079/1, and now that he's been drawn with Sergio Garcia, Ryan Moore and Lee Westwood, I'm more than happy with the price.

Spieth and Leishman are my only wagers in the top half of the draw but it gets messy after that.

The three other players that I backed before the draw, are Rory McIlroy, who's the man to beat in the third quarter, Zach Johnson, who could meet Rory in round two, and England's Paul Casey, who's been drawn in the bottom quarter, and I perhaps should have left it that but I couldn't resist Branden Grace at 50.049/1 after he was drawn in with Russel Knox, David Lingmerth and Chris Kirk.

Grace was superb at the Presidents Cup and while he hasn't been in the best of form of late, given the winner of his group meets the winner of Scott's group, I felt he was worth getting onside. Should everything go to plan, he would then meet Rory or Zach in the quarter-finals.


Selections:
Rory McIlroy @ 13.012/1
Jordan Spieth @ 15.014/1
Paul Casey @ 40.039/1
Branden Grace @ 50.049/1
Zach Johnson @ 70.069/1
Marc Leishman @ 80.079/1


I'll be back later with my Puerto Rico Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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