Bracket SZN: It's Time For One Last Hurrah For The WGC Match Play At Austin Country Club
You thought bracket szn was half over? Think again. We're just getting started.
The WGC Match play at Austin Country Club is such a treat. Match Play as a whole is such a treat. As it relates to top level men's golf, we really only see it twice a year - here and at the Ryder/President's Cup in the late fall. It's a shame because it's the most exciting way to watch and play golf. Every single hole is a game within a game. Momentum can turn on a dime. Players take risks they otherwise might not simply because the downside is finite - simply losing one hole. One of my favorite things about match play is watching the world's best scramble in ways they never would attempt in stroke play. Here's an entire collection of examples:
Which makes it doubly sad for me to say that this is the last edition of the WGC Match Play, and the last WGC as a whole. Truly the end of an era. WGC's were left on the chopping block with the PGA Tour's revamped schedule. Story goes that the PGA Tour approached the folks at Austin Country Club a few months back with a proposal and the membership at ACC countered with increased site fees and other ticket demands for events moving forward.
The Tour was already balancing re-negotiations with pretty much their entire schedule, and probably were looking for a reason to get out anyway. So that was that. Which is a real shame because I think I love this golf course just as much as I love the format, and Austin deserves a PGA Tour event too. It's an awesome, youthful city with strong golf ties that will surely be targeted by LIV in the future, whether it be ACC or another course in the area.
But I digress. It's actually unclear how or where any sort of Match Play is going to fit in to the PGA Tour in the future, which also fucking sucks. I'm sure it'll find its way back in, it's just a tough sell for sponsors. With no guarantee of 18 holes played and little drama outside the final two players in the championship match, it's simply not cut out to fill TV blocks. I'd love to see an event with some sort of combo stroke play/match play format where everyone can get what they want. The Euro Tour toyed with an interesting format a few years ago featuring a 54-hole stroke play cut down to 24 players and a blitz of 6-hole matches on Sunday to finish, which I think could be fine-tuned and given a try. But fact remains they've got to put a bracket-style match play event like this one in the schedule somewhere in the future. Losing it is a step backwards, not forwards.
Anyways, for a long time this tournament was a 64 man tournament, single elimination bracket. Simple as that. Definitely exciting from the jump, but would whittle the field down to a small pool of golfers (and eliminate some great ones) pretty damn quick.
Starting in 2015, they moved to a round-robin format with 4 golfers broken out into 16 pods. The difference is 96 total matches versus 63 under the old format, so that's a major plus. They've tweaked some of the round-robin rules over the years, but the way it works is this: Round robin matches within each pod Wednesday/Thursday/Friday. Win gets you 1 point, Tie gets a half point, and losing gets you zippy. The player with the most points each pod advances. A tie in the standings of a pod after Friday results in sudden death holes late Friday afternoon - which is fuckin SWEET. You might get a half dozen sudden death matches going around closing time on Friday.
From there it's a simple knockout phase. Round of 16 and quarterfinals Saturday (so yes, guys can be playing up to 36 holes or more), and then semifinals Sunday morning and championship Sunday afternoon. So there's potential for a few of these guys to be playing a TON of golf by the time this is all said and done.
The pods were organized by the following: Top 16 golfers in the world are the "A" seed in each pod. Then golfers 17-32, 33-48, and 49-64 are placed into B, C, and D buckets. Then each pod draws a B, C, and D at random to form the rest of the pod. So it's not like the 1 and the 64 seed are in the same pod. So it is random and it is fantastic.
Here is your bracket:
And here is your printable bracket if you're a pen and highlighter type of guy like myself.
Local Longhorn Scottie Scheffler is your defending champion after beating renowned match play wizard Kevin Kisner 4 & 3 in the final. Scheffler had lost in the final the previous year to Billy Horschel, one of many close calls for Scottie before he was finally able to break through at Scottsdale last year. He actually beat Horschel again in the Round of 16 last year on his way to his 3rd PGA Tour title. How quickly things change.
It's also worth noting that Scheffler went 2-1 in group play, beating Ian Poulter, losing to Tommy Fleetwood on Thursday, and having to duke it out with Matt Fitzpatrick in sudden death holes immediately after having clapped him 5 & 4. The two soon-to-be major winners went 6 playoff holes before Scottie beat him with birdie. It was honestly some of the most thrilling golf played in all of 2022 and certainly looks even more significant in hindsight. Just goes to show how razor thin the margins are at this event.
The win also put him at #1 in the world for the first time, and was the last tournament he played before his Masters victory 2 weeks later.
Your bracket from last year, and recent winners:
As I alluded to above, Austin Country Club is friggin sweet. Every year I'm captivated by it. In my perfect world, they would rotate even and odd years between two different courses for the Match Play and have a stroke play event at the opposite place. My first thought was an event like the Wells Fargo and do match play there every other year. That way we could experience ACC's tremendous finishing holes in stroke play format every other year and see Quail Hollow in a different light. But that dream is dead. F's in the chat.
Anyway, Austin Country Club is a par 71 course measuring 7,108 yards designed by Pete Dye. His courses are typically 2nd shot golf courses and this one is no different. That's where a player fitting Kevin Kisner's profile thrives. These greens are bermuda and typically rock hard and fast, so putting will be as key here as ever. Especially when it comes to the pressure-packed nature of match play golf.
Another area where this course is very firm is actually the fairways. I'm not sure if there's a course on Tour all year where I watch balls roll out as much as I do at this course. Lot of steep declines too where you can run balls through fairways and into rock-lined hazard areas. In very typical fashion, this Dye design finishes with a par 5 16th, a short but challenging (depending on pin position) par 3 17th, and a short par 4 where a few may even have crack at driving the green. Wild way to finish a match.
Best Hole - 13th hole, par 4 317 yards
(drone footage brought to you by snipping tool and google 3D maps)
This is an AWESOME hole, especially for match play. Typically the 13th hole in an 18 hole match is right around where the stage is set and things start to heat up. If you're down multiple holes, you start to feel that pressure where you need to make something happen. Perfect time for a risk/reward hole. They may move the tee box around a little bit, but if the wind is right… some guys might have a go at this green. That could force a decision on your opponent for better or worse. And even if you do get wet off the tee, they've provided that little strip of land for you to drop and still have an outside chance of getting up and down for par. Pushes are rare here - no hole on the course has a higher percentage of being won than this one (30.4%).
You'll also see some folks enjoying themselves out with a few adult sodas out on Lake Austin, which is a fun wrinkle.
Yikes. Thunderstorms left and right. Could be a long week for an event that's already 5 days…
NBC it is, as CBS continues on with their silly little tournament.
Shoutout to Nash for displaying this beautiful looking trophy. This right here is the Walter Hagen Cup. She's a beauty. So elegant. I've written a bit about these WGC trophies in the past, which makes me sad that this is the end of the road. Here's the GOAT posing with all 4 because he's, yanno, the only guy to ever win all 4:
Quite frankly… I love em. Love the clayish matte-like finish, love the variety in colors and designs… love everything about these trophies. They had their own distinctive brand when you see them where you say THAT RIGHT THERE is a WGC trophy when you see one. Very global feel.
Needless to say I think these trophies are sweet. I love the color of the Walter Hagen Cup and I'm gonna give it an 8.8/10.
Predictably, Scottie Scheffler is your tournament favorite at +800 at the Barstool Sportsbook. Guy practiced and played here in college, has finished runner-up and won in his 2 starts here, and he's world fucking number one. Don't really gotta dissect that one any further.
As for outrights, these things are typically tough to cap. A player can play his balls off and be more or less the 2nd best player in the entire field that week and find himself on the outside looking in for the weekend if he runs into the wrong guy. There's a very real chance Matt Fitzpatrick was that guy last year. Plus this is just a great field. Tons of great players means that if you have just one off day, you're probably not gonna get away with it.
With that said, I smashed this event last year by picking Scheffler (+2000) AND runner-up Kevin Kisner (+5500). Also went on an all-time heater during group play matches, going 12-1-2.
All of that said, I shy away from picking anyone with odds as short as Scheffler and Rahm in a tournament where so much volatility can happen. Last year was a rare year where half of the top seeds in each group advanced to the knockout stage, but the data for this event at Austin CC shows that only 1 in 3 top seeds end up winning their group.
If you were blindly handicapping group winners based on the historical data above (without juice), you'd handicap each of the A seeds at +200 (which is 33.3% implied odds). The only A seed at that number is Sam Burns, and most of the rest are much shorter (Scottie is the shortest at -110 btw). That suggests to me that there's far more value throwing some darts down the board than there is at the top.
So with that said, I'm gonna give you two picks that I like as my potential champions who I have in the championship match of my bracket:
Jason Day +3300 (and +800 Top 4) - Former winner of this event who has played well recently and won his only major on a Pete Dye track, plus a PLAYERS Championship. I actually have a +4000 future on him at Augusta as well.
Matt Fitzpatrick +4000 (and +1000 Top 4) - He's struggled lately with 2 straight MC's, but I think this course and the impending wet, windy conditions suit him. He's gone 2-1 in pool play each of the last years but has been left on the outside looking in of the knockout stage. Bit of a sleeper here.
Tommy Fleetwood To Win Group 16 +250/Top 8 +500 - He'll have to get thru Scheffler to get to the quarters, but Tom Kim and Alex Noren are a couple of dogs in Scheffler's group. I have my ears perked up about Mav McNealy in Fleetwood's group but love his spot here as he's played great recently and will also thrive in messy conditions.
Si Woo Kim Group 8 Winner +275 - Remember Si Woo taking down JT last fall at Quail Hollow? I sure do. Si Woo is also a proven Pete Dye savant.
Seamus Power Group 13 Winner +275/Top 8 +750 - Seamus made the quarters last year, thumping Cantlay (5 & 4), Sungjae (5 & 4), and Hatton (4 & 3) to do so.
Ryan Fox Group 7 Winner +335 - If fading A seeds is your strategy, here's a good play for you. Will Z hasn't really been himself since recovering from that back injury from last fall, and Fox is undervalued relative to Andrew Putnam (+250 ???) and Harris English (+350)
Tyrell Hatton Group 14 Winner +138 - Fine, if you don't like my A fade strategy, here's one I really like (besides Fitzy). Not hard to see why given he got a great draw of Henley, Herbert, and Griffin, but he's also quietly been playing his balls off this season.
Brian Harman Group 4 Winner +300 - Harman is a dogggg. Lil guy can putt the lights out and punch way above his weight. Taking out Cantlay would help your Seamus Power quarterfinal ticket too.
Denny McCarthy Group 3 Winner +300 - You thought I wouldn't go back to the well on Denny? Think again. Same as Harman with the flatstick. Plus Rory is 2 for 5 on advancing here, and skipped this event last year. This doesn't seem to suit his game, and my memory of him getting smacked around by Ian Poulter 2 years ago 6 & 5 is one that I just can't shake.
3 last things before we get out of here, each of them being key storylines worth watching.
1.) I wrote last week that world 59th Rickie Fowler was playing with fire by skipping Valspar in one of his final chances to get into the World Top 50 and subsequently qualify for The Masters. He drew Jon Rahm's group. I'll be rooting for him, but woof.
2.) Kevin Kisner comes into this event every single year in mediocre form and every single year he shows out. He's been in the championship match 3 of the last 4 years, winning it once. Absurd stuff that defies the odds. His match play prowess is obviously part of it, but I think this shorter track just really fits his game too.
With that said, he's NOT in mediocre form. He's in DISASTROUS form. Trunk slams in 4 out of 5 events and dead last among those who made the cut at THE PLAYERS. He's averaged 74.9 in those rounds. Yikes.
I can talk myself into +12500 outright being both a crazy good value and a total waste of money right now. I'm fascinated to see which Kevin Kisner shows up to a group featuring Homa/Hideki/Justin Suh, with Hideki up first on Wednesday.
3.) The Match Play Man will be back at it again, tweeting picks over @BarstoolBanks each day. Hit that follow button and let's ride.