It was a bit of an off week on TOUR last week for The Honda Classic, which took a big hit in it’s field strength since the inception of the new schedule that moved The PLAYERS to March. Matt Jones took full advantage, nearly going wire to wire for the five-shot win. Now, the big boys are back for another WGC at the Dell Match Play hosted in Austin, Texas.
We will see 64 of the top 68 players in the World Golf Rankings tee it up in a bracket-style format for a 1-v-1 match play until a champion is crowned on Sunday. Brooks Koepka is the most notable player missing this week as he recovers from another knee injury that has his Masters attendance in doubt as well. All of the rest of the top 17 are set to play, and they will make up the top seeds in each of the 16 player groups.
The uniqueness of this format is going to have me previewing this tournament a little differently, as I will focus a bit on the course as usual, but more on the game theory and lineup build. I personally don’t get too deep into the course because in a match play set up, I don’t need the lowest score or most birdies, I just need someone who will beat the other guy. The scoring on both sites will be completely different than you are used to, so it’s important to get yourself used to how that will breakdown.
Possibly the most important thing you can do this week, other than picking the right players, is to build in an optimal way. Many people will put together lineups that are just dead in regards to upside from the very start of the event, and you want to be sure you are not one of those people.
The simplest way to put this is: You want your entire lineup of six to have a chance to play in the round of eight with a shot to have all four of the final-four players. If they all get to that point, then inevitably you will have players match up against one another, but that will optimize your potential upside. This means you should NOT have players in a lineup from the same group, or even the same Sweet 16 segment. If you do this, no matter the result, you will lose a player a round earlier than you have to.
Now, let’s cover the course and top players at this event in recent years.
Austin Country Club Austin, TX
7,108-yard par 71
- 3 par 5s, Four par 3s, 11 par 4s
- Average Green Size: 5,500 square ft (around average for PGA TOUR)
- Bermuda grass greens, set to 12 on the stimpmeter
- 2-inch bermuda rough
- Five water hazards in play on seven holes
- 110 sand bunkers
The last three years of this event have seen Kevin Kisner in the final matchup twice, beating Matt Kuchar last year, but falling to Bubba Watson in 2018. In 2017, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm were the heavyweight battle that ultimately went to DJ. I share this in part to say that the format and the course itself don’t lend itself to any one type of player, but rather the guys who can get the best of the player in front of them. I won’t allow myself to get too attached to one style of player like I may do in some weeks, as we have seen an eclectic group of golfers find success in this event.
Match Play Mavens
Kevin Kisner (1-2-T17)
There has been a lot of talk this year about some comments Kisner made saying he couldn’t contend on certain courses, but clearly Austin Country Club doesn’t fall in that bunch. He has been in the final match in each of the last two years, pulling out the win in 2019. He draws a difficult group with Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, and the player he beat in the final, Matt Kuchar. He clearly loves the format and there is no reason to think he can’t come out of Group 2.
Unfortunately, another of the other Mavens is in this group as Oosthuizen has a great track record (T5-T9-T17-2), which may spell trouble for the recent PLAYERS champion and overall two-seed, Thomas.
Sergio Garcia (T5-T9)
Another solid ball striker with good results in a similar mold to Oosty is Sergio Garcia. He has found his way into the weekend each of the last two times at this event, and was in the middle of an odd controversy with Kuchar in 2019 when he thought he was given a putt. Sergio will look to build on the good year he has put together with another strong result out of Group 8, which is led by Tyrrell Hatton.
Paul Casey (T9-T17-T9)
Maybe we do have a certain player type for success here, as Paul Casey makes it 3-for-3 (4-for-4 with Oosty) in the guys who are known for ball striking and mostly hitting fairways. Casey didn’t get out of his group in 2018, but has otherwise found his way through. He seems to be in a good spot this year coming out of Group 9 led by Webb Simpson, who has struggled at this event.
Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Pictured: Kevin Kisner