Sobel’s WGC-Match Play Mega Preview: Toughest Groups, Upsets, Projected Winners, More

Sobel’s WGC-Match Play Mega Preview: Toughest Groups, Upsets, Projected Winners, More article feature image
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USA Today Sports. Pictured: Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods

  • The 2019 WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay begins on Wednesday, March 27 at 10 a.m. ET.
  • Dustin Johnson (+1000) and Rory McIlroy (+1000) are co-favorites to win the event.
  • Jason Sobel analyzes the field and uses our projections to break down each group and preview the tournament.

You’ve been watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. You filled out brackets. You even spent hours clicking through our bracket simulator, memorizing the percentages for every team against every potential opponent.

And at some point, it might’ve dawned on you: Can’t we use a similar model for other sports?

The answer is yes. We absolutely can.

There are few other sporting events – and certainly no other golf tournaments – which mimic the NCAA’s survive and advance philosophy like this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play Championship.

Even though the format changed four years ago from single-elimination to a three-match round-robin within each group, the basic tenets of the tourney remain the same. The leading point-getter within each of the four-man groups moves on to the Sweet 16. From there, the players are bracketed just like the hoops tourney.

Win and advance, lose and go home.

It’s pretty exciting stuff – and during this frenzied time of year, it’s extremely relevant considering we’ve all been staring at brackets for the past week anyway.

Just like the NCAA tourney, we can predict the win-percentage probability of every potential outcome at the Match Play. Whether it’s a player winning his first match on Wednesday or taking the whole thing on Sunday afternoon, there’s a pre-tourney number affixed to all of it.

And so, let me present the Action Network Match Play Projections, created by our analytics team to offer specific probabilities throughout this entire week.

Play around with it. Click through it for hours. Memorize those percentages like you did for the hoops tourney.

Below are the numbers straight from our model for this event.

The rating will show the strength of any specific four-man group – and the rank next to it details how that foursome stacks up against the others.

The Best Bet is the round-robin match in each group which offers the most lopsided probability in one player’s favor.

The Upset Special is the round-robin match in each group in which the lower-ranked player has the greatest probability of winning.

And the Winner shows exactly what you’d think – the probability for each player to advance to the next round.

Let’s get to those 16 groups – and what our model tells us has the best chance of happening in each one of ‘em.

Group 1: Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace, Chez Reavie

  • Group difficulty: 3rd out of 16
  • Best bet: Dustin Johnson (74.2%) over Chez Reavie
  • Upset Special: Chez Reavie (47%) over Branden Grace
  • Projected winner: Dustin Johnson (46.6%)

Projections show that DJ owns just under a 50-50 chance of advancing out of this group, which is ranked behind only two others in terms of difficulty. Does that mean it’ll be difficult to advance, or is it difficult for the simple reason that the world’s No. 1-ranked player is part of it? Based on the numbers, mostly the latter.

Group 2: Justin Rose, Gary Woodland, Eddie Pepperell, Emiliano Grillo

  • Group difficulty: 7th out of 16
  • Best bet: Justin Rose (64.7%) over Emiliano Grillo
  • Upset special: Emiliano Grillo (49%) over Eddie Pepperell
  • Projected winner: Justin Rose (35.6%)

Despite being the world’s second-ranked player, Rose owns a smaller probability of advancing than any other player in the top-five. Much of that has to do with strength on the back end of this draw, with Grillo and Pepperell nearly identical in the projections.

Group 3: Brooks Koepka, Alex Noren, Haotong Li, Tom Lewis

  • Group difficulty: 15th out of 16
  • Best bet: Brooks Koepka (67.1%) over Tom Lewis
  • Upset special: Haotong Li (48.4%) over Alex Noren
  • Projected winner: Brooks Koepka (40.7%)

Noren’s season-long strokes gained numbers are NSFW, Li has MC’d in two straight big-time U.S.-based events and Lewis owns virtually no experience in this format — all of which results in Koepka not only being the favorite, but this group lagging near the bottom in terms of difficulty.

In a competition like this, the draw plays a huge role and only a few golfers saw their chances of winning increase more post-draw than Koepka did.

Group 4: Rory McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding, Luke List

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