03/22/2016

It’s the time of year when Bracketology sweeps the golf world. As Colin Cowherd talked about last week though, Bracketology is not a major.

Moved a few years back from February to April to now March, the tournament is now set to play after the event in Bay Hill, where Jason Day added his 6th win in the last few years. Hey, March Madness. It’s only appropriate.

Playing this year at Austin Country Club in Texas, the best players in the world will be playing for a $9.5 million dollar purse. Match play is a rarity in professional golf and to see the best players in the world duke it out will be a pleasure all week.

Remember, the tournament left the 64-man bracket style event and went to a “group” style event a year ago. The idea, is that players aren’t forced to travel and make arrangements for an entire week of play, only to be ousted abruptly by a player who makes 7 birdies in 13 holes. It gives golfers more of a chance.

It’s a much more fair format and I think gives golf writers EVEN MORE to talk about. The drama surround the “groups” is quite intriguing.

See the Bracket

Full Field

Attached is a link to the entire 2016 Dell Match Play field.

Last Year’s Dell Match Play

Rory McIlroy staked his position atop the golf world with his win last year at Harding Park. The new format was received quite well by the players.

Here’s a fun video of match play past:

Course: Austin CC

Since I know next to nothing about Austin Country Club, I figured I would instead, just go to the tweets to give you some background on the course.

My conclusion: Harvey Penick will be a talking point throughout the week, the course is in great shape, and it’s a course which rewards accuracy.

The Groups (And Predictions Out)

Group 1

  • Jordan Spieth
  • Justin Thomas
  • Victor Dubuisson
  • Jamie Donaldson

Hilarious that the ping pong balls gave best buddies Spieth and Thomas the same pool. When they face off, it will be the most exciting match of the early part of the week (unless Spieth’s play continues). Donaldson almost cut his hand off a few months ago. Dubuisson hasn’t channeled his signature play as of late.

Verdict: Justin Thomas

He’s been playing quite well as of late. He drives the ball really well and I think he’ll relish the opportunity to take on Spieth when he’s off his game.

Group 2

  • Jason Day
  • Paul Casey
  • Thongchai Jaidee
  • Graeme McDowell

Last week’s winner is in this group and he’ll be the man with the bullseye on his back. Past Ryder Cupper Casey has had a great start to his 2016 season. McDowell drives the ball very well and has seemed to have a game that is close. Jaidee was a Presidents Cup team member in 2015 and a match play quarterfinalist in 2008.

Verdict: Paul Casey

Back-to-back top-10s in his last two starts on Tour (Doral, Bay Hill). A former Ryder Cup member with a lot of match play experience. Great past success here. Paul Casey moving through.

Group 3

  • Rory McIlroy
  • Kevin Na
  • Smylie Kaufman
  • Thorbjorn Olesen

Last year’s champion is the headliner here. Kevin Na is one of the Tour’s quiet, consistent soldiers. Kaufman and Olesen bring a lot of inexperience to this group.

Verdict: Rory McIlroy

His play over the weekend at Bay Hill was sporadic, but brilliant at times. I’m predicting a channeling of the brilliance this week at Austin.

Group 4

  • Bubba Watson
  • J.B. Holmes
  • Emiliano Grillo
  • Patton Kizzire

Two of the world’s longest hitters with past success in this event square off in the 4th group. Both Kizzire and Grillo bring youth to the group with limited match play (especially professionally). Holmes and Watson have each squared off against one another in this event before (duking it out in the video above ^^).

Verdict: Bubba Watson

With the venue requiring accuracy as a premium, I feel Holmes 181st ranking in driving accuracy hurts him in this event. Bubba is a winner this year and proven in match play.

Group 5

  • Rickie Fowler
  • Byeong-Hun An
  • Scott Piercy
  • Jason Dufner

This is a talented group. Piercy played a phenomenal round of golf a few weeks ago to open at the Honda. Fowler has developed into one of the world’s greatest players. Dufner is a tough player in match play, especially when he’s hitting it well. His demeanor is not an easy one to gain momentum against. An is a former US Amateur champion, the greatest amateur tournament in the world–a match play event.

Verdict: Rickie Fowler

I was close to going with An here, but his play at Doral last month seemed to me like he’s still a step or two away from taking his game to the world stage, even as the 29th golfer in the world. Fowler is experienced in match play and a world-class player. Fowler is the guy here. Remember him at the Ryder Cup in 2010?

Group 6

  • Adam Scott
  • Bill Haas
  • Chris Wood
  • Thomas Pieters

All were in the field last week in from Group 6. Haas is an excellent driver of the ball in terms of accuracy and Pieters, in his time at the University of Illinois, got a lot of experience in playing the match play format at the NCAA Championships.

Verdict: Adam Scott

Has anyone been better so far this year? Does anyone drive the ball better? His mind is sharp. I hope he’s not burnt out.

Group 7

  • Justin Rose
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Anirban Lahiri
  • Fabian Gomez

Lahiri made his first appearance on the grand stage at the Presidents Cup last year and got himself into a precarious position when missing a short putt down the stretch on the final day. Gomez is already a winner this year. Mr. BackDoorTopTen Matt Kuchar himself has a tall-task in beating Justin Rose this week, who was in contention some at Bay Hill.

Verdict: Matt Kuchar

He hits well over 60% of his fairways and from the years 2010-2014 did not lose a first round match and in three of those years made it to the final 8 golfers. He was a winner at this event in the past. Has Ryder Cup experience in three different years and two different Presidents Cup.

A lot of experience to lean on here for the man who had two top-15s in his previous 3 starts before taking the weekend off at Arnie’s.

Group 8

  • Dustin Johnson
  • Jimmy Walker
  • Kiradech Aphibarnrat
  • Robert Streb

Loaded field here, sorry Robert Streb, you got hosed.

Johnson and Walker are two of the best drivers of the ball in the world. Walker is playing in his home state this week. Aphibarnrat lit the golf world on fire on Sunday at Bay Hill as he fired the round of the week on Sunday.

Verdict: Kiradech Aphibarnrat

 

He makes birdies in bundles and his play on Sunday at Bay Hill indicate a hot player. I like Aphibarnrat for more reasons than just his name.

Group 9

  • Patrick Reed
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Daniel Berger

Reed is a two-time collegiate national champion with plenty of Match Play experience, as his Mickelson, an American international stalwart. Fitzpatrick is the former US Amateur champion and Berger, well, has no real match play experience here to glean from compared to the men he’s up against. This is a very intriguing group.

Verdict: Phil Mickelson

I’ve been waiting all year for reasons why he won’t play well. He keeps playing well. He’ll keep playing well this week. Match play will excite Phil.

Group 10

  • Danny Willett
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Billy Horschel
  • Jaco Van Zyl

Willett provided the story of the event last year, surprisingly surging his way deep into the Match Play bracket. His play a few weeks back at Doral was an indication he may be looking to make that next jump. Koepka and Horschel will be awesome American Ryder Cuppers in years to come, but that’s just it, years to come.

Verdict: Danny Willett

 

Sorry, Jaco. It’s not you this week. I kind of set the stage for Willett above, didn’t I?

Group 11

  • Branden Grace
  • Russell Knox
  • David Lingmerth
  • Chris Kirk

I’m not blown away by this group. When Grace hit the top-10 in the world, I thought was ready to show his stuff. Since coming overseas, he’s been underwhelming. Lingmerth had the near win earlier this year at the CareerBuilder and Kirk has been off his game so far in 2016 (or at least the game we’d grown accustom to from him).

Verdict: Russell Knox

He’s a par maker, and par makers are tough to beat in match play.

Group 12

  • Hideki Matsuyama
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Soren Kjeldsen
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello

Having a hard time seeing how Kjeldsen and Bello earned places in the field over some of the notables omitted (those interesting world rankings), but this is a one man grouping, in my opinion.

Verdict: Hideki Matsuyama

Kisner has been inconsistent in the past few weeks and I’m not sure why his play has lacked. He’s a guy I had for a bit of a breakthrough in 2016. Anyways, Matsuyama has been great, as always. Good play on the weekend last week for him and his driving of the ball will make him tough to beat this week.

Group 13

  • Sergio Garcia
  • Marc Leishman
  • Ryan Moore
  • Lee Westwood

A group filled with experience here. Garcia is the highest ranked player, but doesn’t have the most match play experience. Moore is a past U.S. Amateur champion who roped together some really good weeks the past few. Leishman is a player, who when hot, is one no one wants to face.

Verdict: Ryan Moore

A gut called based on his ability to keep himself relevant in holes and his past match play credentials. He’s playing well right now with the new equipment from Parsons Golf.

Group 14

  • Zach Johnson
  • Shane Lowry
  • Martin Kaymer
  • Marcus Fraser

A group with a WGC winner from last year, the Open Champion and a former world #1. Fraser, although he could be a surprise, was faced with a difficult group here.

ZJ hasn’t been the ZJ of old thus far in 2016, that is until his week last week at Bay Hill where he finished 5th. Kaymer either plays great or struggles in a serious way. He never loses his mind though. Lowry, however, has the fiery personality and edge, but has yet to post a truly high finish this year on this side of the pond.

Verdict: Martin Kaymer

I’ve seen him kill in match play before. He will kill again.

Group 15

  • Brandt Snedeker
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Danny Lee
  • Charley Hoffman

Verdict: Brandt Snedeker 

If you’ve read this far, by now you just want the picks. Coming off the injury scare and some struggles after his win at Torrey, he had a fantastic Sunday at Bay Hill and a score of 66 (second lowest of the week). Top-20 in strokes gained total and 11th in total putting. He’ll be the guy in the group (despite Schwartzel’s past triumph).

Group 16

  • Louis Oosthuizen
  • Andy Sullivan
  • Bernd Weisberger
  • Matt Jones

Oosthuizen put together a nice week at the Valspar as his fellow countrymen took home the golf. Neither Weisberger nor Jones have made a lot of noise on the world stage so far in 2016. Who’s the name I’m omitting here?

Verdict: Andy Sullivan

I’m quite impressed with everything I’ve heard and read on Mr. Sullivan. Top-27s (I’m stretching it a bit) in his last 3 starts in America and a knack for finding the fairways (65%+), Sullivan will be this year’s Willett and he a player to be watched for a deep run.

Cheers!