We're off to Austin, Texas, this week for the WGC Dell Match Play and our man has the lowdown ahead of Wednesday's start here...
"With three top-four finishes in his last five starts the three-time major winner has been showing definite signs of a recovery of late and this event looks to have come at just the right time.
The WGC Dell Matchplay was first staged back in 1999, when 100/1 shot, Jeff Maggert, beat 150/1 chance, Andrew Magee, in the final.
After a couple of years at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsford, California, the event went Down Under in 2001 but few of the game's star names could be bothered to travel that far so that idea was abandoned after just one edition and it's been held in the States ever since.
The event remained at La Costa up until 2006 before it then moved to the Gallery Golf Club in Arizona for two years. After six years at Dove Mountain in Arizona, the tournament was staged at Harding Park in 2015 before it switched to the Austin Country Club in Texas in 2016 and we return there this year for a fourth time having missed last year's renewal because of the pandemic.
In addition to all the different venues, the tournament has also had several format changes and more than a few sponsors.
First, we had the failed attempt to travel the globe and in recent years there were constant murmurings that the majority of players didn't like Dove Mountain, but the biggest problem had been sponsorship.
The old straight knockout 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 in 2015.
We now have 16 groups of four so everyone gets to play at least three ties - provided there aren't any withdrawals. Players and sponsors are both happier and it should safeguard the tournament for many years to come. Dell, who began sponsoring the event five years ago, signed up again before the 2019 renewal, so the decision to change from a straight knockout to a group format has already been vindicated.
The tournament is supposed to be for the top-64 in the world rankings but with the tournament positioned so close to the US Masters, there are always a couple of players at least that give it a miss.
The top-16 ranked players are all seeded and have been kept apart in 16 groups. Over the first three days, starting on Wednesday, each player in each group plays each other to determine who progresses. Group games can be drawn and they won't go beyond 18 holes. In the event of a tie, both players will be awarded ½ point.
The player with the best record in each of the 16 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, if the format is the same as last time, 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 playoff).
On Saturday morning the winners of each group meet in the round of 16, with the quarter-finals being staged on Saturday afternoon. The semi-finals and final, as well as the third-place playoff, or consolation match, will be played on Sunday.
Austin Country Club, Austin, Texas
Par 71, 7,043 yards
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's very easy on the eye and with four reachable par fives and a drivable par four, there are several risk-reward holes and we'll witness plenty of drama throughout the week.
Live on Sky Sports all five days. Featured Group coverage begins at 15:00 on Wednesday in the UK and the full coverage starts at 18:00
Last Five Winners
2019 - Kevin Kisner
2018 - Bubba Watson
2017 - Dustin Johnson
2016 - Jason Day
2015 - Rory McIlroy
What Will it Take to Win the WGC Dell Match Play?
Plenty of match play experience is always a plus so focus on the results of previous renewals of this event, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup.
Being fit and injury-free could be key this week given whoever wins will have to play seven matches over five days with two matches on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Players that are fresh, that haven't been grinding it out every week in tough conditions on the Florida Swing, will probably fare better than those that have. Lee Westwood, for example, was absolutely shattered by round two of the Honda Classic last week having contended in each of the two previous weeks.
Is There an Angle In?
Don't be afraid to back someone that can get in their own way in stroke play events. Match play is a very different format. The players only have their opponent to worry about and there are numerous examples of players that struggle in-the-mix in stroke play absolutely thriving in this format.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The last two winners were both 80.079/1 chances and that was a change to the norm.
Seeded 48th, the 2019 winner, Kevin Kisner, was the highest seed to win since Geoff Ogilvy won the first of his two titles back in 2006 and the 2018 winner, Bubba Watson, was seeded 35th but he was the first winner in 12 years to be ranked any worse than 21st and nine of the last 13 winners have been seeded between first and tenth. The other two winners, the aforementioned Mahan and Kuchar, were both ranked 21st.
In the first three years of this new format, the winner was either the first or second seed but after the last two results, one could argue that we may be at a crossroads. Has this event turned into a harder one to predict with the newish format and the change in venue? It looks like that may be the case as the top seeds don't always find it easy to get beyond the first three days...
Only three of the top-eight seeds progressed out of their groups in 2019 and in 2017 and '18, only two of the top-eight made it through to the knockout phase.
In the very early days, with a lot of the big names swerving the tournament, outsiders fared quite well and we saw four big priced winners in-row. The inaugural winner, Maggert, Darren Clarke (2000), Steve Stricker (2001) and Kevin Sutherland (2002) were all matched at triple-figure odds but it's been all change since and Ogilvy, in 2006, remains the only triple-figure priced winner since 2002. The Australian, who later that year won the US Open, was a 150/1 shot.
Although Bubba was relatively unfancied in 2018, he was the fourth winner in-a-row to have won earlier in the year and two of the four, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, had won their previous event so strong recent form looks key. Kisner hadn't won but he'd been in very solid form, having finished inside the top-30 in six events in-a-row.
Previous experience of the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Ryder Cup has so far proven invaluable. In 2013, 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 the 2016 winner, Day, but he had plenty of Presidents Cup experience anyway and it was the Presidents Cup that may have inspired Kisner's fine form at this event.
Kisner sparked up a decent partnership with Phil Mickelson in the 2017 Presidents Cup before reaching the final at this event a year later as a huge 300.0299/1 outsider and so it perhaps wasn't that surprising that he took the title 12 months later given previous tournament form is a very strong indicator.
Tiger Woods, Geoff Ogilvy and Jason Day are all multiple title winners and I'd think twice about backing anyone that hasn't previously enjoyed a degree of success in the event.
The match play is a tricky and infuriating tournament to bet on so arguably the best way to play the tournament is to wait until it starts and to watch the early play. It was soon obvious who the form horses were in 2018. Watson was sensational on Wednesday, playing his first nine holes in 28 strokes to go 6-up on Branden Grace and anyone that jumped on him then will have still got a decent price but even that's a risky strategy. Kisner lost his first match to Ian Poulter in 2019.
If you're planning on betting in-running, prior to the semi-finals in 2018, only 14% of players trailing after nine holes managed to win.
World number one and 2017 winner, Dustin Johnson, just about heads the market after the Players Champion, Justin Thomas, drifted following his seemingly tricky draw but neither make much appeal.
There are five players who made the round of 16 in both 2018 and 2019 at Austin Country Club.? Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) March 22, 2021
Three of them are in @JustinThomas34 group this week: Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner and Louis Oosthuizen.
In-form US Open winner, Bryson DeChambeau, and Jon Rahm are the only other two players trading at under 20.019/1 and I'm happy to swerve those two as well.
DeChambeau took last week off but he's had a busy Florida Swing, finishing third at the Players after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational and there's a risk he's a bit fatigued. He made his debut in the event two years ago but went home early after losing two of his three group games.
Rahm made a big impression on his event debut when he reached the final but he's failed to get out of the group in each of the last two editions and he hasn't been at his best in 2020.
This isn't an event I like so I'm only backing two before the off - Jordan Spieth at 25/1 each-way with the Sportsbook and Paul Casey at 32.031/1.
With three top-four finishes in his last five starts the three time major winner, Spieth, has been showing definite signs of a recovery of late and this event looks to have come at just the right time.
He hasn't got a great record in the event, having only gotten out of the group once in four previous appearances, but he's in-form, has a favourable draw, and he'll enjoy playing back in his home state where he has a fine record.
Having finished runner-up twice, Paul Casey has a much better tournament record, and he's also a former winner of the Volvo World Match Play at Wentworth. He's been in fine form for a few months now with his 12th placed finish at the Saudi International, a week after his victory at the Dubai Desert Classic, his worst result in his six starts this year. He plays Pete Dye courses well and looks a fair price at around 30.029/1 after being assigned a decent looking draw.
I'll be back later with the Corales Puntacana Championship preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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