The idea behind the World Golf Championships was that each of the four tournaments would have something special to differentiate them from the others. In truth, it can be a bit difficult to point out just what it is that makes the three stroke play events unique but the WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay really does stand out from the crowd. It’s one of the very few top-level matchplay tournaments and as such it is a real favourite of the players who qualify.
The tournament has moved around America since its inaugural event in 1999. There was also one year in 2001 when the WGC organisers tried something different by moving it to Australia but, disappointingly, it proved to be too far away from the usual haunts to attract a genuinely world-class field. After years in California and Arizona, the WGC Matchplay moved eastwards in 2017 to Austin, Texas where it has found a high class and very popular host venue in Austin Country Club.
|2023||Austin Country Club||Sam Burns|
|2022||Austin Country Club||Scottie Scheffler|
|2021||Austin Country Club||Billy Horschel|
|2019||Austin Country Club||Kevin Kisner|
|2018||Austin Country Club||Bubba Watson|
2023: Sam Burns
The head-to-head format of this event in Austin Texas rarely fails to deliver bucketloads of excitement, and the 2023 edition was no exception, as 64 stars played down to one. Following the early skirmishes, we were left with a final eight of Scottie Scheffler, Jason Day, Mackenzie Hughes, Sam Burns, Cameron Young, Kurt Kitayama and Xander Schauffele, but it was in the semi-finals where the real fireworks began.
Sam Burns flew out of the traps in his clash with World number one Scottie Scheffler to find himself three up after only four holes. Scheffler however came roaring back, tying the match after the eighth, and holding a two-hole lead with six to play. Back came Burns – finding birdies on 13 and 15 to level it up once more, before taking the lead again at 17. Needing to win the final hole to extend the match, Scheffler did just that when holing from five feet following a fine pitch from just off the green. The first and second additional holes couldn’t separate the pair, but when Burns kept his cool to hole from 15 feet for birdie, it was he who was headed into the final.
The second semi-final proved to be an equally topsy-turvy affair, as World number three Rory McIlroy locked horns with Cameron Young. Young struck first when taking the third, but by the end of the sixth, it was the Northern Irishman who had a one-hole lead – an advantage he doubled when taking the tenth. Still two up with three to play, McIlroy looked odds on for the final, but had no answers to Young's birdies at 16 and 18, and this one was also headed into overtime. One hole is all it took, as Young made birdie from nine feet, having escaped from a nightmare lie on his second shot, whilst McIlroy failed to find the hole from a similar distance.
Following all that drama, the final match had a lot to live up to and ultimately turned into a rout. Riding the momentum from that slugfest with Scheffler, Burns was simply electric in rattling in eight birdies between four and 13 to post an impressive six-and-five win over Youngs, who played some great stuff over the course of the week but ran out of steam a little in the final. In the consolation match, McIlroy came out on top two-and-one over Scheffler in a battle of the heavyweights.
2022: Scottie Scheffler
Scottie Scheffler arrived at Austin Country Club in the form of his life ahead of the 2022 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The 25 year old built upon that form, which had seen him win two of his previous four tournaments, to win the Match Play and become the number one-ranked player in the world. Scheffler attended the Match Play as a 19 year old fan and dreamed of winning. That dream came true in front of his delighted family and a very impressed golfing public.
For all that there was a sense of inevitability about Scheffler beating perennial Match Play contender Kevin Kisner in the final, Scheffler had to rely on some luck earlier in the tournament. Matt Fitzpatrick missed a putt in the group stage which would have eliminated Scheffler. However, that putt narrowly missed and Scheffler took full advantage.
There is some debate about whether a player without a major championship win can ever truly be the best in the world. Scheffler’s imperious recent form and his wins in the knockout stages of the Match Play over Billy Horschel, Seamus Power and Dustin Johnson suggested that he is very much the best of the best though.
2021: Billy Horschel
The introduction of a group stage in the WGC Matchplay was done as a courtesy to sponsors and television companies who had grown tired of the biggest, most marketable names being knocked out in the first round. Although we did see the likes of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas for three days in Texas, Jon Rahm was the only player in the top 16 seeds who made it out of their group.
The big names were further thinned out as the tournament progressed and we ended up with Billy Horschel winning. His victory was predicted by just 0.02% of fans who completed the official tournament bracket but the quality of his play coming into the event (he finished runner up in the WGC Workday Championship) and his usually excellent ball striking meant Horschel’s win was perhaps more surprising than it should have been. Or less surprising depending on how you look at it!
Billy Horschel is one of golf’s hardest workers. He works on all aspects of his game, on his fitness and on his plans for the tournament ahead. There is no doubt that Horschel looked carefully at Kevin Kisner’s win in the 2019 WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay as his approach to the 2021 renewal was remarkably similar. Horschel focussed on keeping the mistakes at bay and allowing his opponents to lose rather than going out to win. That allowed him to conserve some energy and made him a very frustrating opponent, two considerable factors in his maiden World Golf Championship win.
Horschel’s run to the knockout stage of the tournament was not perfect. He lost his second group match against J T Poston but wins over Max Homa and Collin Morikawa saw him sneak through. From there, he beat Kevin Streelman 3&1 on Saturday morning before requiring an extra hole to see off Tommy Fleetwood on Saturday afternoon.
As a match play tournament, performance in this event always leads to speculation about who will get a spot in the Ryder Cup. From a European perspective, the performance of Victor Perez was particularly appealing. The Frenchman made it to the semi finals to further strengthen his position inside the automatic qualification berths for a place at Whistling Straits.
The 2020 tournament was cancelled.
2019: Kevin Kisner
The increasing athleticism, strength and power of golfers has arguably had a bigger impact on the game than anything else in the last decade. While Kevin Kisner doesn’t rank anywhere near the top of those pushing the needle in terms of driving distance, he had his improved fitness levels to thank for his win at the 2019 WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay.
Twelve months earlier, Kisner showed just how well suited his game is to matchplay events and to Austin Country Club when making it all the way to the WGC Matchplay final. However, he tailed away tamely against Bubba Watson. There was to be no repeat this time around. He managed to maintain the quality of his golf right through to the final in which he beat Matt Kuchar 3&2.
Getting the job done against a player of Kuchar’s calibre and experience was all the more impressive as Kisner’s semi final against Lucas Bjerregaard went all the way to the 18th hole. Doing so owed as much to his ability to play so much golf and to his style of play. He was relentlessly consistent, steadily applying the pressure before his opponents cracked. “It was a long week,” said Kisner. “I prevailed and I’m a world golf champion.”
2018: Bubba Watson
In the head to head nature of the WGC Matchplay, doing things differently can often unsettle an opponent. Bubba Watson has done things differently his whole golfing career so he puts his opponents ill at ease before their match even gets underway. The two time Masters champion was able to use his own ‘Bubba golf’ style of play to full effect at Austin Country Club, going all the way to win the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay.
The most impressive element of Watson’s play was the way he seemed to get stronger as the tournament went on. He had to play a lot of golf against some incredibly talented players to make it to the final four but he was at his best on Sunday. After taking care of Justin Thomas 3&2 in the semi final, Watson wiped the floor with a very tired Kevin Kisner, winning the tournament on the 12th hole.
For all that Kisner was a long way below his best, Watson can take great heart from winning via the most one-sided final since the WGC Matchplay changed format in 2011. He certainly took great heart from the state of his game and will carry the swagger of a confident golfer for some time.