WGC Match Play preview

March 26, 2019
Justin Ray

PROS AND CONS OF POOL PLAY: WGC MATCH PLAY PREVIEW

This will be the fifth year that the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play has used the pool play format, ensuring every player in the field has the chance to play three matches at minimum. How else has the change impacted the tournament?

Three of the four champions under the new format were top-two overall seeds in the tournament: Rory McIlroy in 2015 (top seed), Jason Day in 2016 (second), and Dustin Johnson in 2017 (top seed). Since the switch to pool play, the top-four overall seeds in the tournament have a combined match win percentage of .677. From 1999 through 2014, top-four seeds had a win percentage of .627.

Even with that success by top seeds, it’s been plausible to expect anybody to advance from pool play. There have been 48 groups in the three years this event has been held at Austin CC. In that span, 37.5 percent of the players to advance have been the highest-ranked players in the group (or from ‘Pool A’), 25 percent have been the second-highest, while 18.8 percent have been either third-highest or lowest.

Volatility and upsets are still present: in just the last three years, four players seeded 58th or lower have advanced out of pool play. Four players seeded 50th or lower have advanced to at least the quarterfinals since 2015.

And although pool play may not have the same do-or-die feel as single elimination, players are still pressured to come through in the new format. Over the previous three years, 75 percent of players to advance to the round of 16 did not lose any of their first three matches.

 

WGC Matchplay_1-100 WGC Matchplay 3-100

AGGRESSIVE PLAY CAN PAY OFF AT 13TH HOLE

The 13th hole is a 317-yard par four that presents players one of the most interesting questions of the week. Drivable for some, players can opt to go for the green, but face a higher risk of ending up in the water – therefore probably losing the hole.

Since 2016, 79 percent of players have elected to lay up. Their scoring average when choosing to do so is 3.94, nearly 2-tenths of a stroke better than the 21 percent of players who go for the green. Only 3 percent of players hit it into the water when laying up, while that number soars to 23 percent when a player goes for it.

But being aggressive clearly has its benefits. Players make birdie or better 33 percent of the time when they go for the green – as opposed to just 26 percent when laying up. The potential payoff is well worth the risk for some, especially the longest hitters in the field.

 

NOTES ON PLAYERS HEADLINING THE FIELD

– Tiger Woods will make his first start in this tournament since 2013. Woods is the event’s all-time leader in matches won (33), matches played (43), largest margin of victory (9 and 8 against Stephen Ames in 2006), and most consecutive matches won (13, from 2003 to 2005).

– With his win at TPC Sawgrass two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy became just the third player in the last thirty years with six top-ten finishes, including a win, in a PGA Tour season before the beginning of April. The other two players to do it are Fred Couples in 1992 and Woods in 2000. Rory has failed to get out of pool play here the previous two years, posting a match record of 2-3-1 (W-L-H).

– Dustin Johnson has won more holes (77) than any other player since this tournament moved to Austin Country Club in 2016. Bubba Watson has won the most matches in that span, with 11.

– Alex Noren has missed three cuts in five starts so far in 2019, but a return to Austin Country Club may put him back on the right track. Noren has a match record of 10-2-0 there over the previous two years, and defeated Justin Thomas in the third-place match in 2018.

– Patrick Cantlay could be a player to watch this week. Cantlay did not advance out of pool play in his 2018 debut but won 33 percent of the holes he played. Only Adam Scott has won a higher percentage of holes since this event moved to Austin.

– Paul Casey’s win at the Valspar Championship gave Europe its first run of three winners in three consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour since 2012. In the PGA Tour’s modern era, there has never been a run of four straight weeks with a European winner. England may give them their best chance at reaching that feat: the ten Englishmen in the field are the most in this tournament’s history.

 

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