The top level of golf leaves the stroke play behind for a week of match play as 64 of the leading players in the world head to Texas for the WGC Match Play, the opening WGC tournament of 2022 and one which promises to be extremely competitive.
Billy Horschel was the most competitive player in the field a year ago when he saw off Scottie Scheffler in the final to win the biggest title of his career to date. He is in the field this week to attempt to defend his crown.
2021 – Billy Horschel
2019 – Kevin Kisner
2018 – Bubba Watson
2017 – Dustin Johnson
2016 – Jason Day
2015 – Rory McIlroy
2014 – Jason Day
2013 – Matt Kuchar
2012 – Hunter Mahan
2011 – Luke Donald
The 64 men in the competition have been drawn into 16 groups. The groups have been seeded so each one contains a player from the four pots which were made up of players ranked 1-16, 17-32, 33-48 and 49-64. As such you would think the better players in the world have something of an advantage here however of the 40 quarter finalists of the last five years only 12 of them have been from that 1-16 bracket.
The tournament begins with the group phase where each player plays the other three in his group once over the first three days. The winner of each group goes into the last 16. If there is a tie on points at the end of a group a play-off takes place. The last 16 and quarter finals are on Saturday with the semi-finals and the final on Sunday. Every match is over 18 holes. Extra holes will be played to determine the result of knockout matches.
We are at Austin Country Club for the sixth time this week and I have to say I love this course for Match Play. It is a par 71 measuring just the 7,108 yards but it is a good test of the all-round game and offers the right blend of tough holes with the risk and reward options that makes this format so entertaining. Generally this is a course for aggressive golf and the format makes for that as well so players who are confident into and on the greens should be favoured.
You would think that judging by the lack of size of it that everyone could feature here but there is a clear bias for the monster hitters, as evidenced by three of the champions here. Kevin Kisner has shown that you can prosper on this course without excess length but you have to be a wizard with the wedges. In the main it is a course where you can get an advantage if you get it out there especially down the last six or seven holes where you can really pound the driver.
The top 64 players in the world have been invited into this tournament but six of them have decided to pass on their invitation. Among those who are not here are Rory McIlroy, the USPGA Championship holder Phil Mickelson, the Valspar Championship winner Sam Burns and the man who came out on top in The Players Championship in Cameron Smith. Among those who are teeing it up this week at the time of writing is Bryson DeChambeau, who returns from injury.
Others in the field are the world number one Jon Rahm, number two Collin Morikawa and number three Viktor Hovland. The FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay is here as is the man looking to keep hold of the title in the form of Billy Horschel. The British charge is headed by Matthew Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter while Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott and Joaquin Niemann are among the internationals looking to go well. Match play specialists Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia will hope to be dark horses here too.
We have joint favourites in the field this week at 14/1. They are the world number one Jon Rahm and the former Players champion Justin Thomas. Rahm offered up his worst performance in some time at TPC Sawgrass recently and his putter is frozen solid rather than stone cold. Match play might warm it up again but it would need to. Thomas was a semi-finalist here in 2018 but he had a heavy week last week and aside from his semi-final run here in 2018 his record in the other four years on this course reads 3-8-1 and he’s failed to get out of the group four times in five. Both look plenty short enough to me.
Viktor Hovland comes next in the betting at 18/1. The immediate problem with backing him is you are relying on a short game which is nowhere near the level of the leading players in the tournament. He did taste the Ryder Cup last year but in the main he is pretty inexperienced when it comes to match play as well which isn’t exactly ideal. The positive is he isn’t in the toughest group but when it does get tough I’d worry. He isn’t for me either.
We have a pair of players at 20/1 this week. They are the world number two Collin Morikawa and the beaten finalist Scottie Scheffler. Scheffler was edged out by Billy Horschel in the final last year but he has won twice on tour since then and is a Texan so will be well up for this. Morikawa lacks match play experience at the professional level and wasn’t overly inspiring on debut here last year so that concerns me. You are also taking a chance regarding his putter as well. If I was backing either of these two it would be Scheffler but he’s got a horrible group.
Two other players are shorter in the market than 25/1. They are Patrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson. Johnson is improving and if the putter plays ball we know he has all the tools to win this tournament. I sense that club isn’t going as well as he would like though which is enough of a concern to leave him off the shortlist. Cantlay must think he is cursed in this tournament. Twice he has won two matches in the group stage and not escaped it but you would imagine that will change eventually. He’s lightly raced and rates as a danger if his group hoodoo doesn’t strike again.
Kevin Kisner did a good turn for me at TPC Sawgrass a couple of weeks ago and his Austin CC record pretty much enforces that he has to be backed here. The first thing to note is that he is 50/1 with those paying eight places and all my bets will be that because this is a brutal week so the earlier we can get cash in our pocket the better. Kisner has won more matches on this course than anyone in the field. He was the champion in 2019 having made the final in 2018 and only lost out in a duel with Matt Kuchar last year. Of the 16 wins he has had on this course some of his victims include Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar twice, Ian Poulter, Alex Noren, Tony Finau, Louis Oosthuizen twice and most importantly Justin Thomas who is the main seed in his group. Thomas played some high intensity golf last week though and that might take its toll. You can pick holes in his form here anyway and his putter is not going well. I fancy Kisner to see Thomas off and if he gets out of the group nobody will want to play him. He’s my first main bet.
The other main bet comes in the first quarter where I’m happy to go with Max Homa in a section which has plenty of bombers but not a lot of form in it. The four seeds in the first quarter are Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. Homa is in the group with Johnson and although he has won around here before he is in nothing like that sort of form at the minute so he looks vulnerable. Homa was only denied coming out of the group on debut last year when Horschel beat him in a play-off. He went on to win the tournament so it was a case of what might have been for the former Genesis Invitational champion. If Homa comes out of this group he’ll be seeded to face Bryson DeChambeau who is playing with a bad wrist. This draw could quickly open right up for a big run from the Fortinet champion.
Brian Harman has a sneaky good record here and is showing signs of form at the minute. He was third in The American Express where he closed out with a 64 and opened up with a 68 at TPC Sawgrass before the deluge of rain made that course too long for him. He was fifth at the Valspar last week and has a dream short game. Putting inside 10 feet is always a huge factor in this tournament and he is inside the top 25 on the tour from that distance. Given that he is hitting the ball nicely and is in a group which could open up with Abraham Ancer a touch hit and miss, Webb Simpson coming back from injury and Bubba Watson who has to be respected here but not feared, especially as Harman beat him in the last 16 last year, I think the 50/1 on the Ricky Ponting lookalike is more than fair.
My final bet will be on a debutant in Tom Hoge. I wouldn’t normally take debutants in this tournament but Scottie Scheffler showed last year that they can go deep in the event. Scheffler is a Texan and although Hoge isn’t from Texas or born there he did go to college in this part of the world so that should serve him well. Unlike Scheffler, Hoge arrives here as a PGA Tour winner having landed the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and you don’t win around there without holing a number of putts and having a good short game. His tee to green game is very good too. Hoge was in the last group out in the third round of The Players Championship recently and only faded in the final round when his putter went cold on him. If it warms up here he ticks a lot of boxes in a group which is escapable even containing the defending champion Billy Horschel.
Back K.Kisner to win WGC Dell Match Play (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back M.Homa to win WGC Dell Match Play (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)
Back them here:
Back B.Harman to win WGC Dell Match Play (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 51.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back T.Hoge to win WGC Dell Match Play (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back them here: