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.
|2021||Austin Country Club||Billy Horschel|
|2019||Austin Country Club||Kevin Kisner|
|2018||Austin Country Club||Bubba Watson|
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.