The opening day of the WGC Dell Match Play sees the first set of group matches being played out at Austin Country Club with all 64 men having the same aim – to win their first match and put themselves in a good position for the rest of the first phase.
With 64 players teeing it up in the event it means we have 32 matches throughout the course of what is a busy but always good day of golf. The first round of games sees the highest seed in each group meeting the lowest ranked player while the two middle players also meet. All 32 matches are priced up so there is plenty to get stuck into and I’ll take four bets.
Paul Casey vs Corey Conners
Match tees off at 15.59 GMT
The first bet I like comes in Group 10, one of the most competitive groups there is in the competition this year and it sees the Ryder Cup star Paul Casey taking on a player who will surely make his Presidents Cup debut later in the year in Corey Conners.
Previous records here don’t mean that this match will follow suit but Conners has played here last year and lost all three of his matches. He was so comfortably beaten that he never even saw the 18th hole all week and I’ve got to think a classy match player like Casey gets the better of him, particularly as he knows he has to win because the two challenges to come are daunting ones. Casey is a former HSBC World Match Play champion on the European Tour and has twice made the final of this competition in the past. He has twice come out of the groups here and lost in a play-off on another occasion. I expect him to get up and running with a win here.
Tony Finau vs Lucas Herbert
Match tees off at 16.21 GMT
The second match I like a bet on in the opening games on Wednesday comes in Group 7 where the middle seeds meet as Tony Finau takes on Lucas Herbert with both men knowing that the challenge of Xander Schauffele is to come later in the week.
Finau doesn’t have a particularly great record around here. He is 4-4-1 at Austin Country Club and has never come out of the group. I would be surprised if he has arrived here in the sort of slump his game is presently in and I was happy to take him on with whoever he would meet in this opening match but actually although he is on debut Herbert has the game to go well around here. He drives it a decent way and his short game is very good and he has the confidence of winning this season. He is good in the wind as well and on all recent form the Australian looks a cracking bet to see off a player who should have a better record here than he does.
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Matthew Fitzpatrick vs Tommy Fleetwood
Match tees off at 17.49 GMT
My third bet comes in the all-English clash in the middle of the day on Wednesday as Matthew Fitzpatrick takes on Tommy Fleetwood in Group 5 where both men know they have two tough customers to come in the form of Scottie Scheffler and Ian Poulter.
Fitzpatrick isn’t the best match player going around although he is 6-9 from his 15 matches on this course. He has never come out of his group though and even more bizarrely he has lost all five of his first group matches, to Phil Mickelson, Kevin Na, Kyle Stanley, Justin Harding and Jordan Spieth. There is something about the Wednesday which doesn’t agree with the Sheffield man and his Ryder Cup singles record isn’t a lot better. Fleetwood was a quarter finalist here last year where the eventual champion Billy Horschel beat him in extra holes but he has only lost one of four opening encounters here and that was to Ian Poulter which isn’t exactly a shambles of a result. Fleetwood has come into a bit of form in recent times and I think his laid back attitude will help him massively here. This looks a much more even match than the price suggests and there might even be a case for Fleetwood shading favouritism. At the prices I’ll go with Fleetwood here.
Bryson DeChambeau vs Richard Bland
Match tees off at 18.44 GMT
The last bet I like comes in Group 9 where Bryson DeChambeau makes his return from injury when he takes on the unlikely player in the field in Richard Bland in the clash in this group which sees the top seed meeting the lowest ranked player.
I always had it in my mind to take DeChambeau on in this first round. He has been out with a wrist injury which kept him out of a title defence at Bay Hill and a spin at Sawgrass so the injury must have been genuine. How much better it is going to be in the space of a couple of weeks I’m not sure but either way his record here is bang ordinary despite his length which should give him a big advantage. DeChambeau is 2-4 on this course with wins over Russel Knox and Si Woo Kim and among those who have beaten him are Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Antoine Rozner. Bland is clearly an outsider here but he isn’t a forlorn hope if Bryson isn’t fully fit. Bland will play the golf course from the short grass and while he isn’t the longest, that will give him the chance to fire into the greens first and put the pressure on DeChambeau. Bland is playing for a spot in the top 50 at the end of the week to make it into The Masters so he’ll be giving it his all here. At 2/1 I can’t ignore him in this opening round.
Back P.Casey to beat C.Conners for a 3/10 stake at 2.20 with Betfair
Back T.Fleetwood to beat M.Fitzpatrick for a 3/10 stake at 2.25 with Betfair
Back them here:
Back L.Herbert to beat T.Finau for a 3/10 stake at 2.50 with BetVictor
Back R.Bland to beat B.DeChambeau for a 3/10 stake at 3.00 with BetVictor
Back them here: