WGC Match Play – Bracket Builder

Mark Diana
Golf Analyst

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Austin Country Club is hosting the PGA Tour’s second WGC of the season, the WGC Match Play. Match Play is much different from the normal stroke play scoring system that is used at almost every other PGA Tour event. There are 64 golfers in the field. There are 16 groups of four golfers. Golfers will play 18-hole matches against each member of their group from Wednesday-Friday. Once a winner is determined from each group, they advance into the “Sweet Sixteen” on Saturday. Every round played on the weekend is single elimination. If a golfer loses their matchup, then their week is over. Following the “Sweet Sixteen” is the “Elite Eight” and then the “Final Four.” Winners from the “Final Four” will face off in a Championship match, while the losers of the “Final Four” battle for the third place finish. 

The PGA Tour is hosting a bracket challenge on their website and I encourage everyone to fill out a bracket to make the viewing experience even more fun this week. 

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In this article, I will break down some golfers to stay away from (the Bracket Busters) and some sleepers who might have a magical run in them (the Cinderella Stories)! Bracket Busters will consist of golfers who are the highest seed in their group. There’s going to be some upsets along the way, so I will try to help you avoid those landmines. Cinderella Stories will consist of golfers who are not the favorite in their group who I think has a good chance to advance into the “Sweet Sixteen.”

Below is a list of all 16 groups:

Group 1: Dustin Johnson, Kevin Na, Robert MacIntyre, Adam Long

Group 2: Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Kisner, Matt Kuchar

Group 3: Jon Rahm, Ryan Palmer, Shane Lowry, Sebastian Munoz

Group 4: Collin Morikawa, Billy Horschel, Max Homa, J.T. Poston

Group 5: Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Si Woo Kim, Antoine Rozner

Group 6: Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jason Day, Andy Sullivan

Group 7: Patrick Reed, Joaquin Niemann, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Bubba Watson

Group 8: Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Matt Wallace

Group 9: Webb Simpson, Paul Casey, Mackenzie Hughes, Talor Gooch

Group 10: Patrick Cantlay, Hideki Matsuyama, Carlos Ortiz, Brian Harman

Group 11: Rory McIlroy, Cameron Smith, Lanto Griffin, Ian Poulter

Group 12: Tony Finau, Jason Kokrak, Will Zalatoris, Dylan Frittelli

Group 13: Viktor Hovland, Abraham Ancer, Bernd Wiesberger, Kevin Streelman

Group 14: Daniel Berger, Harris English, Brendon Todd, Erik Van Rooyen

Group 15: Matthew Fitzpatrick, Matthew Wolff, Corey Conners, Jordan Spieth

Group 16: Sungjae Im, Victor Perez, Marc Leishman, Russell Henley

Bracket Busters (Fades)

Justin Thomas (Group 2)

Coming off of an emotional PLAYERS Championship, Justin Thomas finds himself pitted against a group of Match Play extraordinaires. Louis Oosthuizen is 23-14-3 in career match play events, Kevin Kisner is 14-5-2, and Matt Kuchar is 29-17-5. Group 2 is a group of death because of the overwhelming experience these golfers have in these types of events. All of the group members are excellent putters. Thomas is one of the best, if not the best, approach player in the world. However, he’ll need to get his flatstick going if he wants to advance. At the PLAYERS Championship, the World’s #2 golfer lost over 2 strokes putting in the final round. The short ten foot birdie chances were not falling for JT, and he even missed a 3-foot par save. In this type of group, it will be easy for JT to lose his cool and get frustrated as he watches his group mates make Par or Birdie despite having longer chances at them.

Collin Morikawa (Group 4)

Similar to JT, Morikawa is one of the best approach players in the world. Morikawa is also one of the worst putters in the world. Match Play comes down to who can make the clutch putts and rattle their opponent. Morikawa can find himself in trouble early on if he is unable to convert his birdie chances because of his poor putting. When his putter is cooperating, Morikawa is extremely tough to beat. Currently ranked 179th in Strokes Gained Putting for the 2021 season, Morikawa will find himself in a similar situation as Justin Thomas. He is in a group with good putters. Poston is fifth in Strokes Gained Putting, Horschel is 60th, and Homa is 84th. The four-time PGA Tour winner will need to hit his iron shots to three feet, or find some magic in his flatstick to advance to Saturday’s single elimination round.

Tyrell Hatton (Group 8)

Over the past year, only a handful of golfers have been as successful as Hatton. Hatton has collected three victories worldwide since the start of 2020. Hatton has played three PGA events in 2021, and has been volatile. In those three starts, he has played eight total rounds because he missed the cut at the PLAYERS Championship. Only four of those rounds have been under par, and three rounds have been +4 or worse. The inconsistency for Hatton has come with his short game. He has struggled with putting and Around the Green play, unable to find a way to save par when things begin to unravel. Hatton is notoriously known as one of the most emotional players on Tour. When things are going bad for Hatton, everyone knows. Match Play could be extremely infuriating and his group features the surging Lee Westwood and a resurgent Sergio Garcia. Hatton can’t afford to have his bad rounds early on or his entire tournament might collapse.

Rory McIlroy (Group 11)

The struggles of Rory McIlroy have been way overblown. Rory hasn’t won in over a year and people are quick to point that out to him. However, the #11 ranked golfer in the world has been playing good golf. Rory has played six events in 2021, and has four Top 20 finishes, which also includes two Top 10 finishes. He also has missed two cuts. The scary part about backing Rory is that the missed cuts have been so ugly. At the PLAYERS Championship, Rory was the defending champion and shot +10 over two days. The 31-year-old Irishman has candidly expressed his frustration with the way he has been playing. I would not be surprised to see Rory make a long run at this, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall short of advancing to Saturday.

Cinderella Stories (Sleepers)

Max Homa (Group 4)

What a year it has been for the fan-favorite Max Homa. Homa played the entire California and Florida swing, which is eight straight weeks of tournament golf. Over those eight weeks, Homa won in a thrilling playoff against Tony Finau, and added two more Top 10 finishes. After missing the cut at the PLAYERS Championship, Homa finally got some much needed rest. One of the hottest players on Tour, Homa faces off against a tough group. Since the American Express at the end of January, Homa has played 29 measured rounds, and he has gained strokes in every major category. The Twitter sensation has grown his fanbase over recent weeks and a deep run through the Match Play tournament is definitely possible.

Paul Casey (Group 9)

Casey is in great form heading into the Match Play. Playing in only four PGA Tour events in 2021, Casey has a Top 10 finish in every single one. The ball-striking has been superb and even resulted in a win on the European Tour at the end of January. While the seeding for the groups are based off of golfers Official World Golf Rankings, I think Casey should be the favorite in this group. Over his last 15 measured rounds, Casey is gaining 2.67 total strokes per round! No one has been better in total strokes gained per round since the start of 2021. Casey mentioned being burned out at the end of 2020, and the way he has played in 2021 is showing that he is back and ready to win. Not only do I think Casey will win his group, I think he has a great chance to advance past Saturday’s rounds.

Will Zalatoris (Group 12)

WillyZ is one of the best pure ball-strikers on Tour. All he does is record Top 25 finishes. A balanced profile is perfect for Match Play because he’ll be able to put pressure on his group mates with his long drives, and pristine iron shots. The putter is the biggest concern for Zalatoris, but he hasn’t been awful in that category. The Korn Ferry Tour stud has played seven events in 2021. In those seven events, Zalatoris has six Top 25 finishes. The remarkable consistency the rookie has shown should translate well in Match Play formats. While he does have a tough group, I think Zalatoris can ball-strike his way into a single elimination match on Saturday.

Corey Conners (Group 15)

Group 15 is going to have an upset. Between Conners and Spieth, I think Matthew Fitzpatrick is going to have a battle on his hands. Also, the fully-rested Matthew Wolff is a complete wild card that could come out of nowhere. But, Conners is the one I’m going with because of how well he has been playing. The Canadian put up back-to-back Top 10 Finishes where he flashed his incredible ball-striking ability. Conners is notoriously one of the worst putters on Tour, finishing 181st in that category in 2020. However, 2021 has been a different story. Through his 38 rounds during the 2021 PGA Tour season, Conners is ranked 78th in Putting. This type of drastic improvement is so meaningful because of how good Conners is with his Approach shots. If Conners has gained over three strokes putting in his last two starts. The only win Conners has on the PGA Tour was at the Valero Texas Open in 2019. He is no stranger to winning events in the state of Texas, and if he finally figured out his putting stroke Conners could make a deep run in this tournament.