We've got some match play action to enjoy again this week with the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play from Austin, Texas, so read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Wednesday's start here...
"Since the introduction of the group phase over the first three days, the three winners have been seeded either first (twice) or second and all three were bang in-form. Rory, who had already won the Dubai Desert Classic, finished fourth at the US Masters before winning and the last two winners, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, had both won their previous starts."
The WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play 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 third time.
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 has 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 two years ago, have signed up for the next couple of years at least, 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, the likes of Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott are all swerving the tournament for the second year in-a-row, presumably to prepare for Augusta, and world number eight, Brooks Koepka, is missing due to injury.
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 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 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, its very easy on the eye and with four reachable par fives and a drivable par four, there are plenty of risk-reward holes and we'll witness plenty of drama throughout the week.
For more on the course, please see this interview with Rafa Cabrera-Bello that was published last year on the European Tour website.
Live on Sky Sorts all five days. Featured Group coverage begins at 14:15 on Wednesday in the UK and the full coverage on the Sky Sports Golf Channel starts at 18:00 on Wednesday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Dustin Johnson
2016 - Jason Day
2015 - Rory McIlroy
2014 - Jason Day
2013 - Matt Kuchar
What Will it Take to Win the WGC - Dell Technologies Match Play?
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 now defunct Volvo World Match Play and the Paul Lawrie Match Play but for an easy to assess look at all the form for all the players, check out Adam Sarson's brilliant work which details the match play records of all 64 competitors.
Being fit and injury-free could be key this week given whoever wins will have to play seven matches over five days with two on Saturday and two on Sunday. They'll also have to be able to handle breezy conditions as there's plenty of wind forecast.
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, thriving in this format.
Recent winners, Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar, haven't won the number of stroke play events their talents deserve and while he's now an accomplished major winner with a solid in-contention record and 11 PGA Tour titles, Jason Day had won only once on the PGA Tour (four years previous) when he won this title for a first time in 2014.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Only two of the top-eight seeds made it through to the knockout phase last year, the eventual winner and number one seed, Dustin Johnson, and the number eight seed, Alex Noren, and in each of the last two years, a rank outsider has reached the last four.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (who can be described as one of those that struggle in-the-mix in stroke play) was beaten by Louis Oosthuizen in the semi-finals two years ago and the number 54 seed, Hideto Tanihara, who was matched before the off at [800.0], was beaten by DJ in the semis last year, but the cream tends to rise to the top and we have to go back a long way to find an outsider winning.
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 the only winner in the last 15 years to go off at a big price was the number 52 seed, Geoff Ogilvy, in 2006. The Australian, who later that year won the US Open, was a 150/1 shot.
Winners of late have tended to be bang in-form and nine of the last 11 winners have been a top-ten seed and the two exceptions, Kuchar and Mahan, weren't unfancied. They were both seeded 21. Recent history suggests we need to concentrate on the fancied, in-form, players and that's been even more pronounced since the format changed.
Since the introduction of the group phase over the first three days, the three winners have been seeded either first (twice) or second and all three were bang in-form. Rory, who had already won the Dubai Desert Classic, finished fourth at the US Masters before winning and the last two winners, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, had both won their previous starts. Day doubled up in this event having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and DJ was racking up a hat-trick following success at Riviera and at the WGC - Mexico Championship. Day doubled up in this event having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and DJ was racking up a hat-trick following success at Riviera and at the WGC - Mexico Championship.
Previous experience of the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Ryder Cup has so far proven invaluable. Five 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 the 2016 winner, Day, but he had plenty of Presidents Cup experience anyway.
DJ didn't have a brilliant bank of tournament form before he won last year but he's the exception and not the rule. 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.
Rory arrives in Austin having won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in spectacular fashion and he's without a shadow of doubt the man they all have to beat.
He won this event in 2015 before losing narrowly to the eventual winner, Day, in the semi-finals a year later and he was dreadfully unlucky last year. Having lost narrowly to an inspired Soren Kjeldsen on day one, Rory was given no chance at all to progress when one of the other players in the group, Gary Woodland, withdrew for personal reasons. He'll be on top of the world after winning again for the first time in 18 months and he can emulate the last two winners and win back-to-back tournaments.
The defending champ, Dustin Johnson, is the second favourite and of the market leaders, he's one I'm not so keen on. As stated above, his tournament record was poor before he won and he's certainly not in the sort of form he was in 12 months ago.
Justin Thomas is playing in the event for just the third time and he hasn't exactly shone so far. He's yet to progress from the group and his 2 & 1 victory in his opening tie 12 months ago is his only win. Hes lost his other five!
The 2016 winner, Jason Day, also withdrew 12 months ago when he found playing impossible given his mother had only just been diagnosed with cancer. He didn't have a terrific week at Bay Hill last week (22nd) but he won again at Torrey Pines earlier in the year and he tends to play well at the same events. Don't be surprised if Day turns up and contends strongly. He loves this tournament.
Jon Rahm has gone off the boil since winning the CareerBuilder Challenge but it would be crazy to dismiss him given how close he came 12 months ago and the same can be said of Dallas resident, Jordan Spieth.
Spieth may be out of form and his tournament record isn't great either but sooner or later he'll spark in to life, so why not in front of a home crowd?
I've long since learnt my lesson with this tournament. Pick the odd outsider for small stakes and a bit of fun if you must but concentrating on the market leaders is the way to go and I'm more than happy to side with the in-form tournament specialist and favourite, Rory McIlroy.
There was a little bit of [11.0] available when the market first went up last night and I've also backed him down to [9.4].
As the draw hasn't yet been published, I might yet add another one or two and I'll tweet those if I do. I'll also be back tomorrow with a preview of the week's other event - the Corales Puntacana Championship from the Dominican Republic.
Rory McIlroy @ an average of [9.8]
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