This is perhaps the best time of the year to be a golf fan. Not only are all the best players in the world playing regularly at tournaments on the PGA and European Tours but we’ve got the majors just around the corner. We’ve already seen some brilliantly nail-biting finishes (including Jason Day’s wonderful win at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational) but this week we’ve got something different. It’s the WGC Dell Match Play where 64 of the best players in the world engage in a series of one of one battles.
The Match Play has been a part of the World Golf Championships ever since 1999 but the format got a tweak last season. Instead of a straight knockout tournament the first three days are now a round robin format with 16 groups of four. Each match is 18 holes with one point awarded for a win and half a point for a draw. Then, the top 16 players progress to the knockout stage which is once again played over 18 holes, with extra holes if there is a tie.
For the first time ever, Austin Country Club plays hosts to a top golf tournament. It has been used multiple times on the Champions Tour but never before have the best players in the world all descended on the oldest golf club in Texas. At a little over 7,000 yards the par 71 track is not particularly long but it is by no means easy. Two nines with very different feels will test all of those in the field in terms of shot placement and strategy. Scoring is tough here when out of position and the greens are difficult to read. The winner will need masterful control of their ball and solid chipping game should they find themselves in any of the deep greenside bunkers.
Rory McIlroy, the defending champion, is the man to beat according to the bookies and with good reason. In spells the world number three has been phenomenal in recent weeks but all too often a mistake has stopped his charge. In that regard match play might be perfect for him, a poor shot is only going to cost him one hole and not have a ruinous effect on his score so back him at 12/1 with Bet365.
Another of the top 16 seeds who should go well this week is Adam Scott. Like McIlroy, it was a case of so near but so far for Scott at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational but he should stand up well to the test of driving accuracy and ball striking set by Austin Country Club and 16/1 with Ladbrokes looks a fair price.
Phil Mickelson’s game is tailor made for match play. At times ‘Lefty’s’ aggressive style of play has got the better of him but taking more risks than his opponents this week could be exactly what is required. Mickelson has looked rejuvenated since changing coaches and he could yet challenge in the majors. 40/1 with Ladbrokes has to be considered too big for the experienced Mickelson.