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Culp's Corner

WGC-Match Play Bracket Preview

by Josh Culp
Updated On: March 25, 2019, 9:43 pm ET

The NCAA basketball tournament is not providing much madness. It's pure chalk. 

Perhaps this week's WGC-Dell Tech Match Play will make up for the lack of upsets in this year's NCAA Tournament. 

The current WGC-Match Play format allows for round-robin play over the first three days (starting on Wednesday) and then single elimination for the 16 golfers that escape from the group stage. 

There are pros and cons to this format but it does allow every golfer at least two meaningful matches (possibly one meaningless match). The previous format of one-and-done would only guarantee one match that mattered. If you lost your opening match you were done. Now you can overcome one bad day and hope the rest of your group beats up on each other. 

Dave Tindall already broke down the format and course which is Austin Country Club for the fourth straight year. Check out his Euro-Based Match Play Preview. To read more about the course and past quotes from the golfers, head over to the Fantasy Golfanac

Trying to keep narratives out of the equation, here is how I will break down each group. I will look at three different angles (long-term play, current form, and match play history). I will state the two top golfers based on each model and then piece together my final verdict for each group. 


Long-term Performance: Weighted Stroke Play Performance on the PGA TOUR and Euro Tour over the last year.  
Current Form: Weighted Performance over the Last 12 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. 

Group 1
Long-term Performance: Dustin Johnson over Hideki Matsuyama
Current Form: Dustin Johnson over Hideki Matsuyama
Match Play History: Dustin Johnson over Hideki Matsuyama

Final Verdict: On paper this looks like a two-horse race but stranger things have happened. DJ won this event just two years ago but last year he got bounced in Group Stage with an 0-3-0 record. 

Group 2
Long-term Performance: Justin Rose over Gary Woodland
Current Form: Justin Rose over Gary Woodland
Match Play History: Gary Woodland over Eddie Pepperell

Final Verdict: Woodland went 0-for-2 at Dove Mountain but he was 6-1-0 at TPC Harding Park and currenly holds a 2-1-1 record at Austin CC. Not too shabby for a singles resume. As for the favorite, Rose, he went 1-1-1 during his 2016 debut at Austin Country Club and this will be his first time returning to the course. 

Group 3
Long-term Performance: Brooks Koepka over HaoTong Li
Current Form: HaoTong Li over Brooks Koepka
Match Play History: Alex Noren over Brooks Koepka

Final Verdict: Koepka has been very spotty in 2019, outside of his runner-up finish at the Honda. On the bright side, he holds a 9-5-1 record in match play while doing it against some strong opponents. Noren is the Match Play darling but his form is way too far off the radar, this time around. 

Group 4
Long-term Performance: Rory McIlroy over Matthew Fitzpatrick
Current Form: Rory McIlroy over Justin Harding
Match Play History: Rory McIlroy over Justin Harding

Final Verdict: Harding has been sneaking under the radar overseas, including a win and runner-up finish in his last two starts. McIlroy has been drawing all the spotlights and for good reason. He hasn't finished worse than T6 in his last six starts and he capped off that run with a win at THE PLAYERS. Will that take away some of the hunger or will he look to add another Match Play trophy to his case? He won the 2015 edition at Harding Park.

Group 5
Long-term Performance: Justin Thomas over Keegan Bradley
Current Form: Justin Thomas over Matt Wallace
Match Play History: Justin Thomas over Matt Wallace

Final Verdict: Bjerregaard has a 1-3-0 record at the Paul Lawrie Match Play but he's a much-improved golfer over the last year. Wallace is just 0-1 at the PL Match Play so it's not enough to build a case for or against. His current form does make him the mostly likely knock JT over his throne. 

Group 6
Long-term Performance: Bryson DeChambeau over Marc Leishman
Current Form: Bryson DeChambeau over Marc Leishman
Match Play History: Kiradech Aphibarnrat over Bryson DeChambeau

Final Verdict: Bryson took Noren down to the wire at the Ryder Cup which actually a positive outcome, given the strong record of Noren in singles. Barnrat has a much larger sample size of match play success if you want to take that angle. He went 3-0 here last year in group play to escape from Rahm's group. 

Group 7
Long-term Performance: Webb Simpson over Francesco Molinari
Current Form: Francesco Molinari over Webb Simpson
Match Play History: Webb Simpson over Francesco Molinari

Final Verdict: Molinari may be a popular pick this week, thanks to his Ryder Cup performance. We need to remember that most of that was done alongside Tommy Fleetwood. His overall singles record is nothing to write home about. He is 2-3-0 here at Austin CC. 

Group 8
Long-term Performance: Jon Rahm over Matt Kuchar
Current Form: Jon Rahm over Matt Kuchar
Match Play History: Jon Rahm over Matt Kuchar

Final Verdict: A tough draw for Rahm who runs into some Pete Dye specialists in Matt Kuchar and Si Woo Kim. Kooch has won 60% of his singles matches over the last 10 years which is 12th best in the field of all golfers with 20+ matches played over that time. 

Group 9
Long-term Performance: Xander Schauffele over Rafa Cabrera Bello
Current Form: Xander Schauffele over Rafa Cabrera Bello
Match Play History: Rafa Cabrera Bello over Tyrrell Hatton

Final Verdict: Going back to that same stat of win percentage over the last 10 years, RCB ranks 5th in this week's field (of golfers with 20+ matches played). He is 7-4-1 at Austin Country Club. 

Group 10
Long-term Performance: Paul Casey over Charles Howell III
Current Form: Charles Howell III over Paul Casey
Match Play History: Paul Casey over Cameron Smith

Final Verdict: Casey just won at the Valspar but he got edged slightly in the form department, thanks to an implosion at THE PLAYERS. The Englishman is 5-3-1 at Austin Country Club. Will it be an easy road? Maybe not since CH3 went 3-0-0 during group play last year before losing to Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the Round of 16. 

Group 11
Long-term Performance: Tommy Fleetwood over Louis Oosthuizen
Current Form: Tommy Fleetwood over Byeong Hun An
Match Play History: Louis Oosthuizen over Kyle Stanley

Final Verdict: It looks like a lot of possible outcomes based on the lists above. All four of the golfers show up in the top two in at least one angle. Stanley got through group play last year while Oosthuizen was the runner-up finisher here in 2016. 

Group 12
Long-term Performance: Jason Day over Henrik Stenson
Current Form: Jason Day over Jim Furyk
Match Play History: Jason Day over Phil Mickelson

Final Verdict: Stenson is making his debut at Austin Country Club. He's won his last three worldwide singles matches but in the long-term, his resume is very pedestrian. Jason Day is the man to beat here as long as his body holds up for the week. That is always a question mark but it passed the test in 2016 when he tore through the tournament and beat Louis Oosthuizen in the title match. 

Group 13
Long-term Performance: Tiger Woods over Patrick Cantlay
Current Form: Tiger Woods over Patrick Cantlay
Match Play History: Patrick Cantlay over Tiger Woods

Final Verdict: The last five appearances at this event has yielded a 2-4-0 record for Tiger Woods. That was at Dove Mountain so maybe the new course will get him back on track. Other than his loss to Jon Rahm at the 2018 Ryder Cup, he is 4-0-1 in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches over the last 10 years. This looks like a two-horse race between Tiger and Cantlay. 

Group 14
Long-term Performance: Tony Finau over Ian Poulter
Current Form: Ian Poulter over Tony Finau
Match Play History: Ian Poulter over Tony Finau

Final Verdict: Kisner made it to the finals here last year so don't count him out. However, the baseline stats from Finau and Poulter are in a tier above Kis and Keith Mitchell

Group 15
Long-term Performance: Billy Horschel over Bubba Watson
Current Form: Bubba Watson over Billy Horschel
Match Play History: Bubba Watson over Billy Horschel

Final Verdict: It's still weird to see Spieth's baseline numbers stoop so low. The big numbers have been his downfall recently so perhaps the match play format will be to his liking. A return to a familiar venue certainly can't hurt, either. However, he has to deal with the defending champ in his group and also Billy Horschel who looks like a lively sleeper as the 38 seed. 

Group 16
Long-term Performance: Patrick Reed over Sergio Garcia
Current Form: Sergio Garcia over Patrick Reed
Match Play History: Patrick Reed over Sergio Garcia

Final Verdict: It looks like it will be a battle of the last two Masters champs. Reed was really struggling with his game last week but he's always one of the toughest outs in the head-to-head format. He's won more than 60% of his singles matches over the last 10 years but Garcia's singles record over the time is very similar but he also has current form in his favor. 

Hopefully, this quick rundown has given you some info to snack on. Keep an eye out for the Expert Picks which will include our predicted picks for the event. 


Update: I've included the Top 15 performers via each angle. 


Long-term Performance

Dustin Johnson
Justin Rose
Justin Thomas
Rory McIlroy
Tiger Woods
Bryson DeChambeau
Jason Day
Tony Finau
Jon Rahm
Brooks Koepka
Webb Simpson
Tommy Fleetwood
Patrick Cantlay
Hideki Matsuyama
Francesco Molinari


Current Form

Rory McIlroy
Dustin Johnson
Justin Thomas
Xander Schauffele
Jason Day
Jon Rahm
Jim Furyk
Hideki Matsuyama
Tiger Woods
Charles Howell III
Justin Harding
Bryson DeChambeau
Paul Casey
Justin Rose
Matt Kuchar


Match Play Performance

Alex Noren
Brooks Koepka
Jason Day
Jon Rahm
Ian Poulter
Bubba Watson
Louis Oosthuizen
Tony Finau
Paul Casey
Billy Horschel
Dustin Johnson
Phil Mickelson
Rory McIlroy
Patrick Reed
Rafa Cabrera Bello

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.