By Tom LaMarre
After several exciting stroke-play events in recent weeks, including Cameron Smith of Australia winning the Players Championship and Sam Burns claiming the Valspar Championship for the second straight year on Sunday, the PGA Tour turns to match play this week.
The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will be played from Wednesday through Sunday at Austin Country Club in Dallas, Texas, and 63 of the top 69 players in the World Golf Championships will be there.
The 64 players in the field have been divided into 16 brackets of four and will play a round-robin in that unit. The winners will advance to single elimination in the round of 16, the quarterfinals, semifinals and the final that will determine the champion. The two who reach the final will play a total of seven matches in five days.
Top-ranked in each bracket are: 1, Jon Rahm, Spain; 2. Collin Morikawa; 3. Viktor Hovland, Norway; 4. Patrick Cantlay; 6. Scottie Scheffler (pictured); 7. Xander Schauffele; 8. Dustin Johnson; 9. Bryson DeChambeau; 10. Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa; 11. Jordan Spieth; 12. Billy Horschel; 13. Tyrrell Hatton, England; 14. Joaquin Niemann, Chile; 15. Abraham Ancer, Mexico, and 16. Brooks Koepka.
Horschel is the defending champion after turning back Scheffler, 2 and 1, last year for his sixth PGA Tour victory, taking the lead for good on the seventh hole and wrapping up the title with a par on the 17th hole.
“I’ve got the mentality that I’m never down, I’m never out, until you tell me I can’t play anymore,” said Horschel, who hopes to land a spot on the United States team for the 2023 Ryder Cup, which is contested at match play. “So I think that’s a perfect mentality for match play. I’m a bulldog. I fight hard. I never give up, and I always think I can win.
“I think if you looked at some of the other formats, how I played in team events, what I’ve done at Zurich Classic (he won in 2018 with Scott Piercy). I’ve had success playing at QBE Shoot-Out, so I feel like I’m a really good partner to pair up with a lot of people because I love that format. I love having a teammate there.
“I feel like I should have been on Ryder Cup teams before but that’s my fault because I haven’t done what I needed to do to take care of that. … But I think I’ve shown that I’m pretty good in match play.”
Other former WGC-Match Play champions in the field are Kevin Kisner, who holed a 20-foot birdie putt to beat Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2, in the 2019 final, Bubba Watson, who routed Kisner, 7 and 6, to win the title in 2018, Johnson, who turned back Rahm, 1 up to claim the 2017 title, and Ian Poulter, who beat Paul Casey, 4 and 2, to win in 2010.
Among those not playing are the sixth-ranked Smith, eighth-ranked Rory McIlrory of Northern Ireland, who claimed the WGC-Match Play title in 2015, the 10th-ranked Burns, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Phil Mickelson and Harris English, who is nursing an injury.
“We had a long, extended week at The Players and I just needed a little break,” said Smith, who is enjoying time with his mother and sister after not seeing them in 2½ years because of travel restrictions in Australia because of the Coronavirus pandemic. “I’m enjoying my last week with Mum and my sister, Mel, prior to them departing home for Australia.”
McIlroy is taking two weeks off and will play in the Valero Texas Open next week ahead of the Masters.
Other than that, the best players in the world will be matching up.
1. Scottie Scheffler, United States – Has been impressive in match play while rising to No. 5 in the world. Scheffler has a 5-1-2 record in singles, losing only to Billy Horschel in the final of the WGC-Match Play last year, 2 and 1. And he upset No. 1 Jon Rahm in the Ryder Cup and the Match Play last year. Scheffler won Arnold Palmer Invitational and Phoenix Open this season.
2. Justin Thomas, United States – The seventh-ranked Thomas’ best finish in the WGC-Match Play was fourth in 2018, when he lost to eventual champion Bubba Watson in the semifinals, 3 and 2. He was 5-2 that week and his career singles record is 10-12 in Match Play and the Ryder Cup, in which he beat Tyrrell Hatton last year. Thomas has five top-10 finishes this season.
3. Viktor Hovland, Norway – Making only his second start in the WGC-Match Play and was 1-2 last year, beating Abraham Ancer and losing to Bernd Wiesberger and Kevin Streelman, but he halved his match with Collin Morikawa in the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. The third-ranked Hovland won at Mayakoba among four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season.
4. Jon Rahm, Spain – The top-ranked Rahm has an 11-6-3 record in match play and two of those losses were to Scottie Scheffler last year, in the WGC and the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. He was 5-1-1 in 2017 WGC-Match Play, losing Dustin Johnson in the championship match, 1 down. Rahm has three top-10 finishes this year, including second in the Sentry TOC.
5. Dustin Johnson, United States – Captured the 2017 WGC-Dell Match Play title by going 7-0, beating Jon Rahm in the final, 1 up, and lost to Louis Oosthuizen, 2 and 1, in the 2016 quarterfinals. Johnson has a 22-17-2 career singles in match play, including 6-2-1 in the Ryder and President Cups. Started slowly this season, with a tie for ninth in the Players his only top 10.
6. Paul Casey, England – A real match play veteran with a 38-28-6 singles record, Casey won the 2006 HSBC World Match Play title by beating Retief Goosen, 6 and 4, in the final at Wentworth, and reached the WGC final in 2009 at Dove Mountain before losing to Geoff Ogilvy, 4 and 3. He is 1-2-2 in the Ryder Cup. Was solo third in his last outing in the Players.
7. Billy Horschel, United States – The defending champion in the WGC-Dell Match Play, Horschel went 6-1, bouncing back from an early loss and beating Scottie Scheffler, 2 and 1 in the final. Horschel has an 11-6 match play singles and lost to eventual champion Rory McIlroy in 20 holes in 2015 pool play. Tied for second in the API and tied for sixth in Phoenix recently.
8. Kevin Kisner, United States – Kiz lost his first match in 2019 WGC-Match Play, then won six in a row, beating Matt Kuchar, 3 and 2, in the final. Kuchar got him back in pool play final last year, 2 and 1. Kisner has a 16-6 career record in match play singles, also losing to Bubba Watson in 2018 final. Tied for third in Sony, was fourth in Players, T-8 in Sentry TOC this year.
9. Collin Morikawa, United States – The second-ranked Morikawa played match play as a pro for the first time last year, going 0-2-1in the WGC including a loss to eventual champion Billy Horschel, and halving his Ryder Cup match with Viktor Hovland, but should be better this time around. He finished second in the Genesis and CJ Cup, and tied for fifth in Sentry TOC this year.
10. Louis Oosthuizen, South Africa – After winning his first six matches in the 2016 WGC-Match Play at Austin Country Club, Jason Day of Australia took down Oosthuizen, 5 and 4, in the championship match. The South African has a 23-17-3 career record in match play singles including 1-0-3 in the Presidents Cup. He tied for 14th in the Shriners and at Phoenix this season.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Bryson DeChambeau, United States; Matthew Fitzpatrick, England; Xander Schauffele, United States; Brooks Koepka, United States; South Africa; Jordan Spieth, United States; Joaquin Niemann, Chile; Patrick Cantlay, United States; Matt Fitzpatrick, England; Marc Leishman, Australia; Tyrrell Hatton, England.
1. Tom Hoge, United States – Playing in WGC-Dell Match Play for the first time, but he won at Pebble Beach, was second in AmEx and T-4 in RSM Classic. Is fifth in FedEx Cup standings.
2. Abraham Ancer, Mexico – Has 4-2 record in two WGC-Dell Match Play appearances and lost to Tiger Woods, 3 and 2, in 2019 Presidents Cup. T-7 at Mayakoba is best result this season.
3. Erik van Rooyen, South Africa – Went 2-2 in WGC-Match Play Debut last season, being ousted by No. 1 Jon Rahm, 3 and 2. Won 2021 Barracuda and T-13 recently in The Players.
4. Thomas Pieters, Belgium – Seven-time winner around the world, Pieters beat J.B. Holmes in 2016 Ryder Cup and Byeong Hun An in 2018 Eurasia Cup. Won Abu Dhabi HSBC in January.
5. Talor Gooch, United States – Went 0-2-1 in first WGC-Dell Match Play last year, but won 2021 RSM, was T-4 in Fortinet and T-5 in CJ Cup, and is sixth in the FedEx Cup standings.
For first-round matchups and tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html