By Tom LaMarre
Kevin Kisner finally will get the chance to defend his title this week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which was cancelled last year because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Even though some big names won’t be there, the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings all will be at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas, when the tournament tees off on Wednesday.
Tiger Woods, recovering from serious car accident, obviously isn’t in the field, and neither are Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Justin Rose of England and Adam Scott of Australia.
Koepka withdrew from the Players because of a knee injury that recently required surgery, Rose pulled out of the Honda due to a back injury, Woodland couldn’t play in the Honda after testing positive for Covid-19 and Scott might feel he needs a break with the Masters on the horizon because he has not been playing well.
Headliners include second-ranked Justin Thomas, who is coming off his victory in the Players Championship, top-ranked Dustin Johnson (pictured), third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, fifth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who has fallen out of the world top 10.
Among the 22 players making their Match Play debuts are PGA champion Collin Morikawa, who is ranked fourth, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Viktor Hovland of Norway, Matthew Wolff, Korn Ferry Tour points leader Will Zalatoris and No. 69 Dylan Frittelli, who made the field because five players ahead of him in the rankings opted out.
Kisner claimed the title last year with a 3-and-2 victory over Matt Kuchar, one year after losing in the final to Bubba Watson, 7 and 6.
“Coming back to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play to defend my title will be one of the highlights of the season for me,” said Kisner, who has won three times on the PGA Tour. “While I was able to hold on to that defending champion title for one extra year, I can say with confidence I would have much rather been able to compete in Austin last spring.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 impacted our season in 2020, but we are back at it and I can’t wait to get back to Austin Country Club for some match play.”
Other former champions playing this week are Watson, Johnson (2017), Jason Day of Australia (2014 and 2016), McIlroy (2015) and Kuchar (2013).
Also in the 64-player field are sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele, seventh-ranked Patrick Reed, eighth-ranked Tyrrell Hatton of England, ninth-ranked Webb Simpson. 10th-ranked Patrick Cantlay, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Paul Casey of England, Marc Leishman of Australia and Alex Noren of Sweden.
“After the cancellation of the 2020 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, I am ready to get back to Austin,” Johnson said. “There are many tournaments and courses that I look forward to playing throughout the year, so I am excited to get back to Austin Country Club for one of the best events on Tour.
“Hopefully I can continue my record of success in WGC events, as I’ve been fortunate to win my share.”
Johnson has six victories in the WGC events, second only to Woods’ 18.
- Dustin Johnson, United States – The top-ranked Johnson captured the 2017 Dell Technologies Match Play Championship with a 1-up victory over Jon Rahm of Spain. DJ, whose six WGC victories are second to Tiger Woods’ 18, reached the round of 16 and in 2012 and tied for 17th in 2017. He has a 20-16-1 match play singles record in his career. He drew Adam Long for his first-round match.
- Justin Thomas, United States – Coming off his victory in the Players Championship, Thomas will try to improve on his best finish in the WGC-Match Play, fourth in 2018, when he lost to eventual winner Bubba Watson, 3 and 2, in the semifinals. He has an 8-10-2 singles record in his career in the WGC-Match Play, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Will face 2013 WGC-Match Play champ Matt Kuchar for openers.
- Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – Capturedthe 2015 WGC-Match Play title with a 4-and-2 victory over Gary Woodland and lost to Hunter Mahan, 2 and 1, in the 2012 final, among four finishes in the quarterfinals or better. McIlroy is 32-17-2 in singles for his career in the WGC-Match Play, the Ryder Cup, the World Match Play and Seve Trophy. He will play Ian Poulter of England in the first round.
- Bryson DeChambeau, United States – Figures to improve on his 1-3-1 record in match play since he has become the longest hitter in golf. DeChambeau beat Russell Knox, 3 and 1, in the first round of the 2019 WGC-Match Play, and halved with Adam Hadwin in the 2019 Presidents Cup. Won the 2013 Trans-Mississippi Am in match play. Matched against Antoine Rozner of France in first match.
- Jon Rahm, Spain – The second-ranked Rahm has an 8-4-2 career singles record in match play, having lost to Dustin Johnson, 1 down, in the 2017 WGC-Match Play final. Beat Kevin Chappell, Shane Lowry, Sergio Garcia, Charles Howell III, Soren Kjeldsen and Bill Hass en route to the final. Also beat Tiger Woods, 2 and 1, in 2018 Ryder Cup. Playing Sebastian Munoz of Colombia in round one.
- Collin Morikawa, United States – The PGA champion will have to prove that he is the same player in match play because this is his first tournament under that format as a pro. Morikawa played on the victorious United States team in the 2017 Walker Cup, posting a 4-0 match play record, including a singles victory over Harry Ellis of England, 2 and 1. He drew J.T. Poston in the first round.
- Tyrrell Hatton, England – The eighth-ranked Hatton has a 9-6-1 singles record in match play in two appearances in the WGC-Match Play, the 2015 Paul Lawrie Match Play and the 2018 Ryder Cup, where he lost to Patrick Reed, 3 and 2, in Sunday singles at Le Golf National in France. Won four matches before losing in Lawrie Match Play. Facing fellow Englishman Matt Wallace in his opener.
- Xander Schauffele, United States – Holds a 4-2-1 singles record in two appearances in the WGC-Match Play and the 2019 Ryder Cup, where he beat home favorite Adam Scott of Australia, 2 and 1, at Royal Melbourne to help the U.S. win. His two defeats have come against Spaniards, Sergio Garica in 2018 and Rafa Cabrera Bello in 2019. Matched against Andy Sullivan of England in the initial round.
- Patrick Cantlay, United States – Defeated Joaquin Niemann of Chile, 3 and 2, in the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia to help the U.S. bring home the trophy, and has a 4-2-1 overall singles record after playing in the last two WGC-Match Play events. One of his losses came to Tiger Woods in 2019, but he beat Hideki Matsuyama of Japan in 2018. Gets left-hander Brian Harman in the opening round.
- Paul Casey, England – This match play veteran has a 37-26-5 career singles record in the WGC-Match Play, the Ryder Cup, the Euraisa Cup, the Volvo World Match Play and the Seve Trophy. Casey beat Retief Goosen, Mike Weir, Colin Montgomerie and Shaun Micheel, the last by a score of 10 and 8 to capture the 2006 World Match Play title. Playing against Mackenzie Hughes of Canada in his opening match.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Day, Australia; Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa; Patrick Reed, United States; Viktor Hovland, Norway; Marc Leishman, Australia; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Kevin Kisner, United States; Tommy Fleetwood, England; Daniel Berger, United States; Lee Westwood, England.
- Will Zalatoris, United States – First match play event as a pro, but Zalatoris won 2014 U.S. Junior Am at match play, was 3-1 with two singles victories in 2017 Walker Cup. Plays Jason Kokrak in his first-round match.
- Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Put up a good fight before losing to Tiger Woods, 3and 2, in 2019 Presidents Cup. Went 2-0 in 2019 WGC-Match Play before Paul Casey beat him. Ancer will open with Bernd Weisberger of Austria.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – Making match play debut as a pro, but won the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur in match play and beat Connor Syme, 1 up, in the 2017 Walker Cup. Plays two-time WGC-Match Play champion Jason Day in first round
- Robert MacIntyre, Scotland – This is his match play debut as a pro, but McIntyre captured 2015 Scottish Amateur and lost in the 2016 Amateur final, both at match play. Faces Kevin Na in his opening match.
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Africa – The 26-year-old Bezuidenhout is making his match play debut as a professional, but already has seven titles in his short career. Opens against Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
For first round match-ups and tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html