Sobel’s Favorite WGC-Match Play Bets: Rory Owns an Edge Over Tiger
USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Rory McIlroy (left), Tiger Woods (right).
Here we go: The hottest golfer on the planet will square off against (perhaps) the greatest match play competitor of all-time in what could be a classic heavyweight battle at the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship on Saturday morning.
In one corner … Rory McIlroy, who hasn’t finished lower than sixth place in any tournament this year. Through three matches this week, he’s won 14 holes, lost only three and never once trailed.
In the other corner … Tiger Woods, whose career-long dominance has carried over to this format. Following three U.S. Junior Amateur and three U.S. Amateur titles in match play, he’s won this event three times overall.
There haven’t been many David-Goliath clashes in Tiger’s career when he wasn’t easily thrust into the role of Goliath, which makes this impending match so noteworthy. Woods has opened at a +140 underdog – and rightly so, considering how Rory (-160) has been performing recently.
Fresh off a victory at The Players Championship two weeks ago, McIlroy has led after 41 of the 46 holes he’s played so far. It’s always difficult to transfer match play data into possible stroke-play statistics, but it would be a surprise if he wasn’t amongst the leaders entering the weekend, if that was indeed the format.
If you’re seeking an edge here, good luck.
There are no hidden corners in this matchup. With two less-heralded players, we could unearth some statistic that might give us pause before firing a specific bet.
But in the case of such highly publicized — and televised — players like these, there’s not much that even the most casual fan doesn’t know: Rory is really, really good and Tiger might only be good with one “really” these days, but he’s certainly good enough to win a single match to advance in this volatile format.
OK, so that’s not completely true. We can offer a true edge, something to think about while deciding which player to back.
According to our Action Network Match Play Projections, McIlroy owns a 59% mathematical chance of winning this match. Remember: That’s a projection, not a prediction; it simply tells us that if they played 100 times, the math says Rory would win 59 of ‘em.
That’s good enough for me, though. The world’s best golfer is playing the world’s best golf. As Tiger is well aware, that’s a tough combination to beat.
Pick: Rory McIlroy
Francesco Molinari vs. Paul Casey
If you stuck with recent form when filling out your bracket, there’s a good chance you’ve got this match in the Round of 16, considering these two players won two of the last three events on the Florida Swing.
Molinari has been flawless so far, never trailing in a single match. Casey went 2-0-1 in round-robin play, knocking off Cameron Smith to advance on Friday. This should be an even match between a pair of tremendous ball-strikers, but Molinari is running just a little bit hotter these days.
Pick: Francesco Molinari
Justin Rose vs. Kevin Na
This event has been a strange one for Rose overall. He didn’t play the last two years due to “personal reasons,” which likely meant it simply didn’t fit into his schedule, but could also be assumed as apathy toward the event or the format (or both). And yet, here he is, through to the weekend despite any perceived indifference.
Na was one of few true surprises to advance and should have his hands full in this one. Underdogs are often the play in this tourney, but it’s tough to envision anything other than the expected result.
Pick: Justin Rose
Matt Kuchar vs. Tyrrell Hatton
Saturday mornings have been tough on Kuchar in this event over the past few years. In 2016, he lost in this round to Brooks Koepka; last year, he lost here to Kevin Kisner.
Hatton might not be blessed with Koepka’s talent, but he definitely has some of the never-give-up in him that Kisner also owns. It’s easy to see the Englishman looking at this one like a Ryder Cup match — and we know how those usually end up for the Americans.
Pick: Tyrrell Hatton
Branden Grace vs. Sergio Garcia
It’s never a shock when Grace plays well, but it was tough to see a solid week coming. Since finishing runner-up in Phoenix, he’s competed in five events and failed to record a top-25, missing the cut in two of those starts.
Garcia, meanwhile, has largely been firing on all cylinders this year and was clearly the top of his group. Let’s not underestimate his motivation in Austin, his adopted hometown.
Pick: Sergio Garcia
Lucas Bjerregaard vs. Henrik Stenson
Raise your hand if you had Bjerregaard winning a group that included Justin Thomas, Keegan Bradley and Matt Wallace. (Now put your hands down, liars.) It seems like each year there’s a lesser-known international player who bursts onto the worldwide scene at this event and the 27-year-old Dane seems to be that player this tear.
He’ll have his hands full with the steely-eyed Stenson, who’s won this event in the past, but if you’re looking for good value on an underdog who has the potential to pull off the upset, Bjerregaard could be the man.
Pick: Lucas Bjerregaard
Marc Leishman vs. Louis Oosthuizen
If you look up the definition of “tough out” in the match-play handbook, it’ll have a photo of Leishman.
OK, so he hasn’t played great in this event since it moved to Austin — in fact, he’s been kind of terrible — but when he’s on his game, the big Aussie makes very mistakes. After knocking out Bryson DeChambeau in his Friday match, he should be ready to take on his Presidents Cup teammate in this match.
Pick: Marc Leishman
Haotong Li vs. Kevin Kisner
Kudos to Li for first beating Koepka straight-up, then making birdie on the opening playoff hole to defeat Alex Noren and advance.
He’s certainly capable of winning this match, but Kisner might love this format as much as anyone. Last year’s runner-up was in a playoff of his own, beating match-play maven Ian Poulter. Expect him to have his game-face ready to go on Saturday morning in an event he really enjoys.