The WGC-Dell Match Play is golf’s version of March Madness, minus the one-and-done aspect of the NCAA Tournament, at least for the first three days. The round-robin format instituted last year will keep everyone around Austin Country Club for at least three matches while determining which 16 players advance to the weekend.
Match play can be great fun to watch because every hole is like a match within the match. Momentum and psychology come into play. One hole won’t necessarily ruin a good day but one swing can change a match.
The first order of business is advancing from the four-player pods. With that in mind, here are five matches that jump out in round-robin play:
5. Adam Scott vs. Bill Haas: Scott played Bay Hill’s 18th hole 5-over par last weekend or he would have had a chance at a third tournament win in a row. Big numbers don’t hurt so bad in match play. Haas showed his match-play skills last fall by winning the clinching point in the Presidents Cup, a huge moment for him.
4. Jason Day vs. Paul Casey: Day comes off a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he looked borderline dominant again. Casey has been consistently good but not great. Casey’s only PGA Tour win came in 2009 but he’s the 23rd seed in this stacked field. Winner of this match probably will be in the round of 16.
3. Bubba Watson vs. J.B. Holmes: Sledgehammer golf at its finest. There probably won’t be much conversation other than Watson talking to himself and caddie Ted Scott which he does every round. For most other players, dealing with the power these guys have could be a match-play issue. For all their power, though, this likely will come down to putting.
2. Phil Mickelson vs. Patrick Reed: Plenty of personality in this pairing. Reed loves match play and has the record to prove it. Mickelson is playing with renewed enthusiasm after an offseason swing change. There won’t be much laying up in this match.
1. Justin Thomas vs. Jordan Spieth: The two besties are in a pod that also includes the mysterious Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson. Spieth and Thomas like to pick at each other, instigating fake Twitter feuds and occasionally pranking each other, but this one will have a touch of seriousness about it given the stakes. It should be fun.