The WGC-Dell Match Play brings together all those players available from the top 64 in the world rankings and it is a former world number one in Rory McIlroy who can win the event for the second time. One notable absentee is Tiger Woods who has won the match play three times but sadly he is injured and about 700 places in the standings below the qualifying mark.
The event is being played at Austin Country Club which at 7,108 yards is short in length by modern standards. The Pete Dye course next to Lake Austin in Texas is hosting the Match Play for the second time having been a decent test on debut last year. There are distinct features on each nine, the front side being on higher ground while the back nine is lower and runs alongside the Lake creating a links type feel.
The top 64 players in the world rankings are eligible but five qualifiers have declined the invitation. The timing is not the best as the top players are now focusing on the US Masters which takes place in two weeks. Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Adam Hadwin are sitting the event out. The first four have made that call probably with the Masters in mind but Hadwin is getting married and probably thought better of taking his new wife on honeymoon to a golf tournament.
The format of the event is match play golf with results determined by the number of holes won. The first stage is a round robin of 16 groups of four players with only the group winners advancing to the knockout rounds. At this point extra holes take place if players are tied after 18 holes or 36 holes in the final. The world rankings will determine the top 16 seeds with a blind draw to fill the other slots from groups of players in the rankings. In the past in theory a player could complete less than a full round of golf before having to pack his bags if defeated in the first round. However, every player will now contest at least three matches.
The executive director of Dell was talking up his company’s baby when saying: “The unique head-to-head format makes this one of the most anticipated events on golf’s calendar”. But 59 from 64 eligible players turning up is not bad when the format is mainly alien to the field. It seems an anomaly that so few events waver from the standard stroke play format when the biggest event in golf, the Ryder Cup, is played on a man-to-man basis. Patrick Reed is an interesting contender with one to one competition in mind.
McIlroy made a final day charge in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday. A three putt final green and a massive eagle putt holed by the winner, Marc Leishman, did for his chances but McIlroy was upbeat after his fourth round. He talked confidently about getting back on the horse and posting a win. McIlroy’s long and straight driving makes him a good fit for match play golf so he can win the event for the second time in three years. Jason Day has won twice in that spell but is not in the form to defend.
Dustin Johnson is another leading contender, basically because he is statistically the best player in the world but also because he has the temperament and game to excel in match play golf. He is trying to become the first man to win three consecutive starts since McIlroy in 2014 but at the current odds Reed is preferred. In the last two Ryder Cups he has been the top scorer for the United States so clearly relishes the challenge of playing the opponent rather than the course. Reed has bottle and won’t be intimated because he believes he is one of the best players in the world.
Golf has a history of producing precocious exciting talents from Spain and Jon Rahm can follow in the footsteps of Ballesteros, Olazabal and Garcia by making a name for himself in the game. The latest Spanish prodigy has won on the US PGA Tour this season. However, winning the world matchplay in his first appearance may be beyond Rahm but he has the confidence and ability to go deep into the draw but McIlroy is the most likely winner at the business end of the week.