Plenty of Enticing Longshots in WGC-Dell Match Play Field
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
The World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play will tee off Wednesday morning in Austin, Texas, with a loaded field and an unconventional format.
The likes of Rory McIlroy (pictured above), Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia will compete in a round-robin, three-day group stage before heading into the weekend’s single-elimination competition.
With so many big names in the field, there’s no shortage of intriguing betting opportunities. Read on for value plays, course and competitor analysis, and some interesting props.
Austin Country Club will host the event for the third time. It checks in this year at 7,169 yards for a par 71. The course has produced two elite winners in the last two seasons in this event, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.
It will favor the longer hitters — if they can keep it in play — but Austin Country Club isn’t totally a bomber’s track. Guys like Bill Haas and Zach Johnson have advanced from pool play the last two years by simply keeping their drives in the fairway off the tee and attacking with the approach game.
It’s also a Pete Dye design, so it may be wise to consider players who have had success on his courses before, such as TPC Sawgrass, where the Players Championship is held, and Harbour Town for the RBC Heritage. This would generally point in Matt Kuchar’s direction, but his form has just been off this year, so I’ll be passing.
Sixty-four of the best players in the world will participate in the event, which is organized similarly to a World Cup draw in soccer. The top 16 players are assigned to different groups, with the remaining 48 separated into three pools. From there, one top-16 seed joins one player from each of the three pools to comprise a four-player group. The best record in each quartet over the round-robin stages then advances to the 16-player knockout bracket.
Rory McIlroy enters as the favorite at +750 on Bovada following his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week. McIlory is in a group with Brian Harman, Jhonattan Vegas and Peter Uihlein. I don’t see a whole lot of trouble for McIlroy there. Vegas played college golf at the University of Texas and has a little more familiarity with this course, but outside of that, McIlroy has a clear advantage.
Defending champ Dustin Johnson is next at +850 and, like McIlory, has about as soft as a draw as someone could hope for in this field. He’s up against Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin and Bernd Wiesberger. Johnson has to play poorly for any of those three to knock him off.
Justin Thomas is next on the odds sheet at +1100. Thomas has a trickier draw than Johnson or McIlroy with Francesco Molinari, Luke List and Patton Kizzire. Thomas bested List in a playoff at the Honda Classic last month, so List will have a little added motivation to pull off the upset. Kizzire is also tough. He’s won twice this season and advanced from his group in 2016 in his only appearance in this event.
Jason Day is available at +1200 and has a troublesome bracket with Louis Oosthuizen, James Hahn and Jason Dufner. Oosthuizen is the real threat to Day here. The two matched up in the 2016 final with Day coming out on top, so there’s a revenge factor for Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen has also made it to the quarterfinals three of the last four years.
One other group of note pairs up Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed with Haotong Li and Charl Schwartzel. Spieth and Reed are in the top 10 of the odds at +1600 and +2800, respectively. Li and Schwartzel haven’t been in the greatest form the last month, but they’re no pushovers. And with such a marquee matchup looming between Spieth and Reed on Friday, it’s possible one of them gets caught looking ahead and slips up.
Only five of the 16 favorites in last season’s event advanced out of their group. Given the amount of volatility in this tournament, I usually don’t back anybody in this range until we reach the knockout stage.
But of the elite names at the top, Day would be my lean, at +1200. He’s won this event twice, in 2014 and 2016, and I’m not really too worried about him against Dufner or Hahn. The matchup with Oosthuizen is scary, but I would expect Day to get out of this group and give you a shot in the bracket.
The other group favorite a little further down the odds board I like is Paul Casey at +2000. He has a manageable draw with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Kyle Stanley and Russell Henley. None of those players has finished in the top 10 anywhere in the past couple of months, so they aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. Meanwhile, Casey is fresh off a victory at the Valspar Championship earlier this month. He’s also had good success in this format, advancing from pool play two of the last three years. He was also the runner-up in this event in 2009 and 2010 in the old knockout format.
This is the range where I start making plays on guys I think can advance from the group stage.
My first is Tyrrell Hatton at +3500. He’s in maybe the softest group top to bottom with Charley Hoffman, Brendan Steele and Alexander Levy. None of these four has advanced in match play before, but Hatton was close last year. He reached a sudden-death playoff with Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Charles Howell after all three went 2-1 in the pool. (Hatton was eventually eliminated on a fluke penalty on the green after he hit the ball from the wrong location, allowing Howell to advance.) Hatton is the best player in this group and is in the best form. He’s shown he can compete in these elite fields, narrowly missing the Thomas/Mickelson playoff at WGC Mexico a few weeks ago.
Gary Woodland, who is +7000 on Sportsbook, and Kevin Chappell, available at +8000 on Bovada, are two names a little further down the board I like.
Woodland is in a nice draw with Pat Perez, Webb Simpson and Si Woo Kim. He’s also been a great in match play in recent years. He finished runner-up to McIlroy in 2015. In 2017, his next appearance, he beat Emiliano Grillo in the first match of his group before withdrawing after his wife had complications with her pregnancy.
Woodland has cooled off a bit since his win at this season’s Phoenix Open, but he seems to do well in this format.
Chappell is grouped with Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter and Daniel Berger in once of the tougher groups. I’m backing Chappell because he’s been grinding out solid results for the last three months, including three top-10 finishes in his last six events. Only Poulter has any real match-play pedigree in this quartet, but he hasn’t advanced out of the opening round since 2013. I think this group is wide open, so I’ll take a shot on the guy who pairs strong form with the bigger number.
Kevin Na is my one triple-digit play at +13000 on Sportsbook. I mentioned how players like Haas and Zach Johnson have advanced here by just keeping the drivers in play and attacking with the irons. That applies to Na as well.
He’s 4-2-1 the last two years on this course, advancing out of the group once and losing a sudden-death playoff to McIlroy the other time. He’s also in a quartet from which he’s got a good chance of advancing, and I backed him at +375 to move on from this group. Alex Noren, Tony Finau and Thomas Pieters stand in his way. Finau and Pieters are trouble for Na if they keep the driver straight, because they’ll hit it a mile by him. But they’re also pretty wild with that club, which can lead to some trouble on this course. Noren has been solid all year and also advanced from group play last year, so he’s the biggest threat to Na.
One other thing going in Na’s favor is that he’s notoriously one of the slowest players on tour. He takes a lot of time to hit his shots, and that has rubbed players in his group the wrong way in the past. I imagine that would only be amplified in a match-play setting.
As I mentioned early, the favorites tend to struggle in pool play, so I’ve targeted a few guys I think can pull some upsets and advance out of their pool over the big names.
Kizzire at +450 is my first target, over Thomas, Molinari and List. Thomas is a threat here because he’s playing better golf than anyone right now, but he’s also never advanced out of his group in match play. Kizzire is the only one of these four players who has ever won a group before in this tournament, so I’ll take a shot on him doing it again.
I’ll be taking two longer shots as well in Haotong Li +600 and Yuta Ikeda at +1000.
Everyone is looking at the Reed/Spieth matchup, but I think Li has enough game to throw a monkey wrench into the plan. Spieth and Reed have only advanced from their groups once in the three years in this format, so it’s not like they’re coming in with a stellar record in this event. Li has had some good results this year, like when he held off Rory McIlroy to win in Dubai.
Ikeda is a big underdog, but he’s also in a very weak group with Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Ross Fisher. All three of those players are solid, but Ikeda is capable of getting hot and beating them. Also, it’s tough to say anyone in this tournament is really +1000 to get out of a group — especially if there is no star in the quartet. If we’re asking him to beat McIlroy or Day or Dustin Johnson, +1000 may be a less appealing price, but it presents value in this pod.
Top Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
All odds via Bovada on March 20 unless otherwise noted