The WGC Match play brings together the best players in the sport based on world rankings and seven of the top 10 are playing this week. The defending champion, top seed and world number one is Dustin Johnson who will again be a tough nut to crack. Over the short 18 holes format there will be shocks but the cream should rise to the top after five days of head-to-head golf. Rory McIlroy played wonderful golf over the back nine to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and he will also be hard to beat. He has the course, current and event form to call upon this week.
The market leaders do not have a great record in this event but that’s understandable due to the format. The 16 highest ranked players are seeded and three other players make up each of the 16 groups after an open draw. Matches are played on a round robin basis and only the group winners progress to the last 16. Matches are played over 18 holes so upsets can happen over this short format but the winner is often one of the best players in the world. Only two of the last 10 winners did not have a single figure world ranking when they won the world match play.
The 64 players are seeded based on their world ranking. There is a predefined draw in the knockout stage and if results go to form Johnson will play Justin Thomas in the final. However, in the 19 year history of the world match play the top two seeds have never met in the final. The number one seed has only won five times but over the last three years the winners have been seeded 1, 2 and 1. Changing the format from a 64 player straight knockout event has created more predictable outcomes. Players can afford one defeat in three group matches but still qualify for the last 16.
Tiger Woods lost in the final to Darren Clarke in 2000 and is the only top seeded losing finalist. The event panned out most in line with the rankings in 2004 when Woods, seeded one, beat Davis Love in the final and that player was the number three seed. In 2002 Kevin Sutherland won as the number 62 seed and four years later Geoff Ogilvy was ranked at number 52 when he won the first of his two WGC match play titles. McIlroy beat Gary Woodland in the final in 2015 as the number one seed. He is seeded six this time but is the hottest player in golf.
There has been an almost even split of winners between US players and overseas golfers over the history of the event. Two players from Northern Ireland and two players from England have prevailed which means the UK is the equal second winning most nation after the United States. Australians Ogilvy and Jason Day are both two-time champions. There have been no Asian winners so Hideki Matsuyama would create history if the won this event. Paul Casey and Love are the only multiple losing finalists and McIlroy, Woods and Ogilvy are the only players to win and lose the final.
McIlroy has plenty of Ryder Cup match play experience and has an aggressive approach to his golf. He can afford to miss some fairways as he strives for distance and the most that a mistake can cost is one hole. With matches played over one round there is less recovery time but if a player stays within two holes of an opponent a match can transform on the 17th and 18th holes. McIlroy found an effective putting stroke last Sunday and that is the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle so he is tipped to win the 2018 WGC Match Play and his second title in four years.