With March Madness already full steam ahead, the PGA TOUR will play catch-up and kickoff their own bracket this week at the WGC-Match Play.
This event has been running since 1999 and as a WGC event, it attracts the strongest of names, year after year.
Let's jump into a quick preview of the course and then dive into some group-by-group analysis that may help us fill out our brackets this week.
Austin Country Club is hosting this event for the sixth time.
We've seen a wide range of winners in terms of playstyle. We've had the around-the-green wizard Jason Day lift the trophy, big hitters like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson walk away with the title, but also seen wedge and putting experts Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel win the last two editions.
As a risk-reward layout, this course gets mostly great reviews from the players when it comes to using it for match play.
"It's pretty quirky with the rolling terrain and it's a great match play course. I feel like you can really get it going and you can take a couple of risks where you probably wouldn't have taken them in stroke play, so I think it will be interesting tournament this week." -Viktor Hovland
The course is somewhat generous off the tee. There is water on a handful of holes but as long as you avoid those hazards then you'll likely have a good chance of advancing to the green on your second shots. The rough, at least in March with the way the TOUR sets it up, is not extremely penal. This is great for viewing purposes because golfers are able to stand over shots in the rough and still give it a go.
Tricky is a word often used when describing Austin Country Club. Rolling terrain and Texas winds are the main culprits for that.
Here are a few quotes that talk about how tricky the course is:
"It doesn’t suit any type of player or any type of golf. It’s really tricky right now. It’s like a Valderrama almost in some ways. With the wind blowing, you’ve got to hit shots. By that I mean there’s no standard stock shot out here, you’re trying to hold it against the wind, knock it down. You’re always trying to do something, fit the ball into the green. So it demands a lot of your game. The short game around here is really tricky, which is great preparation going into the Masters. You get a lot of similar style chips. " -Justin Rose
"It's a strange golf course; the front nine's very different to the back nine. And it can get windy here, so it can be quite tough. So yeah, it's going to be an interesting week." -Matt Fitzpatrick
"This golf course is tricky. There’s so many moving parts on this golf course. Not only the wind comes all over the place but these mounds. The Tour staff, as I said earlier in the week, these pins are probably half a step harder than they would be in stroke play. So they’re putting them in spots where, yeah, we can potentially putt off greens, chip of greens, balls are careening into tough spots." - Tiger Woods
Going back to water hazards, they are a big deal here. Especially when you consider the format of golfers sometimes needing to be aggressive when they otherwise wouldn't, if it were stroke play.
"Thank goodness it’s match play, wouldn’t want to play stroke play. Packed an extra dozen balls for the week, because you could lose a couple out there very quickly." -Paul Casey
For turf, the golfers will see ryegrass and fescue on the fairways with bermuda rough. The area was hit with major storms last year that kept the bermuda dormant so we'll have to monitor the early reports on how the grass is looking this year. The greens are TifEagle Bermuda and they get overseeded with poa trivialis.
The brackets just came out so let's hop in and do a quick data exercise. I will look at one-year baseline performance, recent form, and head-to-head history to break down each round-robin group.
Long-term Performance: Weighted Stroke Play Performance on the PGA TOUR, Korn Ferry Tour, and Euro Tour over the last year.
Current Form: Weighted Performance over the Last 8 weeks on the PGA TOUR and Euro Tour.
Match Play History: Hole-by-Hole performance over Average in all singles matches over the last 10 years. This also accounts for opponent strength.
You see see the full bracket that was just released on the PGA TOUR social media feed.
Final Verdict: Rahm looks to be the easy favorite here but he's got tough matchup with Reed and Munoz who have Texas roots and an in-form Young.
Final Verdict: We know Garcia loves it in Texas and he has one of the deeper head-to-head resumes. Morikawa is still trying to build out his singles resume.
Final Verdict: Hovland and Zalatoris are both playing some great golf but don't have many positive results on their match-play resume. Could that open the door for Tringale or Straka to sneak through? Not likely, but certainly possible.
Final Verdict: Mitchell (and Seamus Power) are both playing great golf this season but they'll have a tough task to take out Cantlay and/or Im. This is one of the sneakier tough groups.
Final Verdict: Obviously Poulter has the quantity when it comes to match play success but it's hard to argue with Scheffler's early-career results in head-to-head play. He made it to the finals here last year and took out Rahm at the Ryder Cup.
Final Verdict: JT is trending toward the winner's circle but he's generally underperformed in head-to-head play over the course of his career. I don't think it will stay that way forever, and he's obviously showed big flashed in team competition. It will be fun to watch the rematch of him and Luke List which last time featured List
Final Verdict: This is not the strongest bunch when it comes to overall play in the last year, but they all have that insane go-low potential that make them boom-or-bust options from a week-long perspective.
Final Verdict: Sticking with the boom-or-bust theme, Homa, Hughes, and Wolff all have that gene. DJ is the more steady option of the group but it's hard to pick him with too much confidence when you have so much hot-hand upside in this group.
Final Verdict: Bryson is finally set to return to action this week, after dealing with some injuries and the Saudi rumor mill over the last few months. Bland would be a great story if he makes it out of group play but Gooch is the more probable name to advance here, if we assume Bryson has some rust to shake off (which may or may not be true).
Final Verdict: Noren and Oosthuizen have a strong head-to-head resume while Casey isn't too shabby himself. That's one of the stronger threesomes among any group this week. Of course, Corey Conners is a ball-striking machine. It would surprise me a bit if Conners advanced but anything is possible in March.
Final Verdict: Spieth has lost some of his magic again but we are back in his home state now. Of course, Adam Scott has more than his fair share of success in the Lone Star State so he would be my pick to get out of Group 11 since he brings the best blend of all three angles above.
Final Verdict: While Hoge is playing well and Min Woo Lee has some game, this group looks like a two-man race between the defending champ (Horschel) and big-hitting Belgian (Pieters) who is ready to go full time in the States now.
Final Verdict: This group has some names that can really heat up with the putter. None of them have yet to really pop in head-to-head play, though.
Final Verdict: This is a clean sweep in terms of what each angle predicts (Niemann over Henley). Lurking on the sidelines are Na and McNealy, two of the best putters on TOUR which always means upset potential in a head-to-head match.
Final Verdict: Bubba and Harman have both showcased their potential at Austin CC in the past. Ancer is a Texas resident and a good course-fit on paper. Simpson is the strongest of the bunch when healthy, but that's a bit of a question mark lately.
Final Verdict: Everyone gets a mention in this group! That shows how wide-open this group is, while the casual fan will likely think this is a cake-walk for Koepka.
Hopefully, this quick rundown has given you some info to snack on. Now here are the Top 15 performers from each of the three angles used above.
Long-term Performance (1-year baseline)
Current Form (Last 8 Weeks)
10-Year Match Play Performance