Not a fan of NCAA basketball? No worries – the real madness in March is happening this week on the PGA Tour. The 2023 WGC–Dell Technologies Match Play groups were announced early this morning and though the reveal lacks the gravitas of college basketball’s selection show, the drama that lies ahead does not disappoint. Austin Country Club, hosting for the final time this year as the tour moves to its new designated-event schedule, has proven to be a more-than-suitable locale for fireworks since taking over hosting duties in 2016, and this year’s event promises much of the same.
The event revamped its format in 2015, partially leaving single-elimination in favour of 16 “pods” of four players, with everyone playing a round-robin against the other three competitors. The players come from four categories divided by rank; the top 16 players are considered the “A” group, the next 16 classified as “B” and so forth. The players are grouped randomly by a ping-pong lottery machine. From there, the 16 group winners advance to a single-elimination bracket, contested over 18-hole matches on Saturday (final 16 and quarter-finals) and Sunday (semi-finals and final). Here are the round-robin matches for the 2023 WGC–Dell Match Play:
Scottie Scheffler (1), Tom Kim (17), Alex Noren (38) Davis Riley (54)
Scheffler has two wins in the past month – underscored by his triumph at the Players Championship – and is the defending Match Play champion. If that wasn’t enough, Scheffler also finished second at Austin Country Club in his debut in 2021 and proved his matchplay merits at the 2021 Ryder Cup. Expect him to be a tour de force again in Texas… Kim has somewhat cooled off from his torrid stretch late last year, finishing outside the top 30 in five of his past six starts. He’s also not legally allowed to drink yet, so we’re not too worried about the fledgling superstar hitting a wall, and if the Presidents Cup was any indication Kim should shine in this week’s format… Noren’s had a rough go in 2023, missing the cut three times in four tour starts. But he’s no pushover, evidenced by reaching the Match Play semi-finals in 2018 and the quarter-finals the year before… After a lights-out rookie year, Riley hasn’t quite taken the leap some expected this season. But the 26-year-old had a top 10 at Bay Hill and a decent showing last week at Innisbrook, signalling a turnaround may be near.
Jon Rahm (2), Billy Horschel (22), Keith Mitchell (39), Rickie Fowler (49)
Apparently the only thing capable of taking down Rahm in 2023 is a stomach bug. Look for his hot run to continue in Austin, where Rahm has advanced out of pool play in three of five appearances, highlighted by a runner-up in 2017… Horschel has been in a rut of late, missing the cut in four of his past six starts and entering the week 146th in strokes gained/tee-to-green. But Austin Country Club should be just the analgesic Horschel needs, as he won here in 2021 and advanced to the weekend last year… Mitchell has been sneaky good this year (16th in scoring, 23rd in strokes gained) but more importantly, if he doesn’t make the PIP list after reposting that fantastic slice/driver whack/air horn video, Golf Twitter should riot… This is a big week for Fowler, who at 59th in the OWGR needs a great performance to move into the top 50 to earn a Masters invite. He finished third at this event in 2014 but this will be his first time playing the WGC–Match Play in seven years.
Rory McIlroy (3), Keegan Bradley (20), Denny McCarthy (48), Scott Stallings (52)
McIlroy won the 2015 WGC–Match Play and has a runner-up and a fourth-place finish at this tournament as well, but he has not advanced out of pool play in three of the past four years. However, with wide-open confines Austin Country Club is the perfect venue for McIlroy to get right with his recent driver woes… According to DataGolf’s Ryder Cup forecast, Bradley has the 14th-best odds to make the 12-mean USA team thanks to his mid-career revival this season (four top 10s, fourth in FedEx Cup). He can greatly improve that standing this week, although this event hasn’t been his forte, never advancing out of pool play… McCarthy is making his Match Cup debut, but his short-game prowess (ranked second in strokes gained/putting last year) should make him a nightmare match-up… Stallings is making his first Match Play appearance since 2014. He’s having a so-so season in 2023, making eight cuts in 11 starts but ranking 117th strokes gained.
Patrick Cantlay (4), Brian Harman (25), K.H. Lee (35), Nick Taylor (55)
Cantlay is 0-for-4 in advancing out of pool play. However, Cantlay does enter the week playing well, finishing in the top five at both the Genesis Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational… There are two surefire bets during Match Play week: 1) the term “vagaries” will be used no less than two dozen times, and 2) Harman will be called a “bulldog”. Of course, he is a bulldog, making the weekend in two of his three Match Play appearances… Lee has been relatively quiet this season but proved his matchplay mettle at last year’s Presidents Cup, winning two points for the Internationals… Watch out for Taylor, who has four top 10s so far this year and ranks 19th in strokes gained.
Max Homa (5), Hideki Matsuyama (18), Kevin Kisner (42), Justin Suh (63)
Just two starts at the WGC–Match Play for Homa, both quick outs. No matter; Homa has five finishes of T-6 or better – including two wins – this season, and his all-around dexterity (seventh in strokes gained/tee-to-green, third in strokes gained) should make him a formidable foe… This format continues to give Matsuyama fits, as the 2021 Masters champion has not advanced out of pool play in his past five starts… That’s the opposite of Kisner. It’s unclear if Kisner is really good at matchplay or he just really enjoys Austin Country Club, but since the tournament has been held at the venue Kisner has been a juggernaut, finishing first or second in three of the past four Match Plays… After a rough norhern autumn, Suh, the reigning Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year, is coming into form, making five straight cuts, including a T-6 at the Players Championship two weeks ago.
Xander Schauffele (6), Tom Hoge (23), Aaron Wise (40), Cam Davis (64)
In his fifth WGC–Match Play start Schauffele will be searching for his first advancement out of pool play. His play this season has been overshadowed by the displays from Scheffler, Rahm, McIlroy and Homa, but Schauffele is off to another solid start, ranking 10th in strokes gained and ninth in strokes gained/approach… Hoge has shown last year’s breakout was no aberration, finishing T-14 or better seven times this season. Don’t be surprised if his second-shot aptitude (first in strokes gained/approach) vaults him into the weekend… Wise enters Austin cold, missing the cut in four of his past five starts. However, he is one of the best putters on tour (eighth in strokes gained/putting), which could make him lethal in this format… Davis is a bit of a wildcard. Entering TPC Sawgrass the Sydneysider had missed five straight cuts (partly thanks to illness) before posting a T-6 at the Players. To keep that momentum going Davis will need to figure out a way to stop making big numbers (150th in bogey avoidance).
Will Zalatoris (7), Ryan Fox (29), Harris English (37), Andrew Putnam (56)
Zalatoris reached the quarter-finals in last year’s WGC–Match Play. Will be looking for similar good vibes this week, as Zalatoris’ return from injury hasn’t been the most auspicious of performances. Though he did finish fourth at Riviera last month, Zalatoris hasn’t finished better than T-36 in four other full-field starts… Kiwi star Fox plays mostly on the DP World Tour, where he won twice in 2022, but did play and make the cuts at both Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass… English has missed the cut in five of his past seven starts. But he made the most out of one of those made weekends, finishing T-2 at Bay Hill… Putnam finished second in October at the Zozo Championship and T-4 early this year at the Sony Open. Since then, not much has gone right, missing the cut in four of his past five starts.
Viktor Hovland (8), Chris Kirk (28), Si Woo Kim (34), Matt Kuchar (59)
Hovland finished T-3 at the Players Championship, continuing a run of strong play from the Norwegian (eighth in strokes gained/off-the-tee, 15th in strokes gained). While he’s making strides in the short game, he’ll need it to be right this week, as Austin Country Club calls for creativity around the greens… Kirk is a dead-eye from 125-to-150 yards (first in approach) and just as good at anything shortr than 125 (16th in approach). As long as he keeps it in play – which shouldn’t be a problem at Austin Country Club – Kirk could be trouble… Kim is 19th in strokes gained/tee-to-green, which hasn’t quite reflected in his performances aside from his win at Sony Open. He hasn’t played great at Match Play, making the weekend just once in five starts… Don’t sleep on Kuchar; he’s finished third or better four times at the Match Play, including a runner-up in Austin in 2019.
Collin Morikawa (9), Jason Day (32), Adam Svensson (44), Victor Perez (51)
Morikawa is in the midst of a really, really good year, entering Austin ranked third in strokes gained/approach and fourth in strokes gained/tee-to-green. Made it out of pool play last year; if his putter co-operates, has the all-around game to make it to the final… According to DataGolf, only Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler have a better true strokes gained figure than Day during the past three months. However, since winning this event in 2016, Day has not advanced out of pool play … Svensson made news with his win at the RSM Classic in November, yet has quietly been putting together some good golf with three top 25s in his past four starts… Perez has made only one start at the WGC–Match Play but made that start memorable, reaching the semi-finals in 2021.
Tony Finau (10), Kurt Kitayama (19), Adrian Meronk (45), Christiaan Bezuidenhout (60)
Finau has never looked comfortable at Austin Country Club and the results show, failing to advance out of his pod in four tries. Ranking third on tour in birdie average, certainly has the penchant of putting up red numbers to bury an opponent, but just as critical will be keeping the big numbers at bay (11th in bogey avoidance)… Which Kitayama will show up: the guy who outlasted some of the biggest names in golf at Bay Hill, or the guy who’s finished T-73 or worse in four of his past six starts?… Meronk’s in the field thanks to his win at last year’s Australian Open. A solid week could put the Pole in the running for a Ryder Cup spot… At 135th in strokes gained, Bezuidenhout enters as one of the coldest players in the field, but he was in the mix at the Players Championship before a final-round 74 took him out of proceedings.
Matt Fitzpatrick (11), Sahith Theegala (26), Min Woo Lee (41), J.J. Spaun (61)
Fitzpatrick won the 2013 US Amateur and 2012 Boys Amateur Championship, so the man does have some big matchplay hardware on his mantle. Those feats have yet to transfer to the professional level, as Fitzpatrick has yet to score a point in five Ryder Cup matches and is 0-for-6 in advancing out of his pod at the WGC–Match Play. He’s too good a player for this record to continue, so look for a turnaround this week… Theegala enters outside the top 50 in strokes gained but that doesn’t quite tell his story, finishing T-6 or better five times this year. His penchant for racking up red figures (18th in birdie average) should make him a fun watch… Perth’s Lee proved he could hang at the Players Championship, still managing a T-6 when nothing went right on the final day. A good week at the Match Play could earn him PGA Tour membership for next season… Spaun is making his Match Play debut. It doesn’t come at the best of times, as he’s missed the cut in four of his past five starts.
Jordan Spieth (12), Shane Lowry (21), Taylor Montgomery (47), Mackenzie Hughes (50)
Spieth made the quarter-finals in his Match Play debut in 2014 but hasn’t done much since, making it out of pod play just once in his past five starts. However, Spieth enters the week in form, finishing T-6 or better in three of his past five outings… Lowry has not advanced out of pool play since the tournament moved to the round-robin format. Nevertheless, his short-game wizardry should keep him in the mix… Speaking of short games, Montgomery’s flatstick (second in strokes gained/putting) should put the rest of his pod on upset alert… Hughes won the Sanderson Farms Championship last year but since he’s been a bit all over the map, his best finish a T-50 in five full-field events in 2023.
Sam Burns (13), Seamus Power (30), Adam Scott (33), Adam Hadwin (53)
Has been a somewhat up-and-down season for Burns, entering 44th in strokes gained and 115th in approach. Did log a sixth-place finish at the Valspar. Making his tournament debut, as he withdrew from last year’s event after winning at Innisbrook the week before… A really good northern autumn (three top 5s, including a win) put Power in Ryder Cup consideration. He’s kept his name in the conversation with four top 25s in 2023, yet reaching the semi-finals this week may lock up an invitation to Rome… He’s played just five times this year, but Scott hasn’t done much in those starts (124th in strokes gained)… Scott did reach the weekend at last year’s Match Play, although it was the first time he’s reached the final 16 in this event since 2005… Ranking 30th in strokes gained and 21st in bogey avoidance, Hadwin may be one of the tougher “D” players in the field.
Tyrrell Hatton (14), Russell Henley (31), Lucas Herbert (46), Ben Griffin (62)
Sneaky-good year for the Englishman, who is coming off a runner-up at the Players Championship along with a T-4 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and T-6 at the WM Phoenix Open. That’s not welcomed news to those in his group, as Hatton has advanced to the weekend in three of his past four Match Play starts… Henley’s finished inside the top 15 just once in 10 starts this season, but he made the most of that weekend, winning at Mayakoba last November… Victorian Herbert is coming off a brutal showing at the Players, where he went 82-85. On the flip side, Griffin continued his solid rookie season by playing his way into the final group for round three at TPC Sawgrass. This tournament is historically not kind to first-timers, but Griffin’s short game makes him a viable dark horse.
Cameron Young (15), Sepp Straka (27), Corey Conners (36), Davis Thompson (57)
Calling it a “sophomore slump” is perhaps unfair, but the reigning Rookie of the Year hasn’t been the same player as he was in 2022, Young entering the week 45th in strokes gained after finishing 15th in the category last campaign. He’s still among the league leaders in birdies (fourth), but a number of bad holes continue to creep in (101st in bogey avoidance). Luckily this format allows for mistakes to be quickly forgotten, giving Young a platform to bounce back this week… Straka doesn’t make many birdies (124th in birdie average) but a solid approach game should give him chances to make things uncomfortable for his competition… Conners has been a top 25 player on tour this season in strokes gained/off-the-tee. If he can clean up the short game (153rd around-the-green, 151st in putting), he could cause problems… Since nearly winning the American Express, Thompson’s game has been in a mini-slump, failing to finish better than T-53 in five starts. He’s too talented a player for that streak to continue.
Sungjae Im (16), Tommy Fleetwood (24), J.T. Poston (43), Maverick McNealy (58)
Im is 12th in strokes gained and is 11th in scoring. Is 0-for-2 at advancing out of pool play, yet his tee-to-green game paints the profile of a player that can go far in this event… Could this finally be the week Fleetwood earns his first PGA Tour victory? A T-3 at the Valspar provides hope and he reached the quarter-finals here two years ago… Poston tends to run hot (six top 25s in 13 starts) and cold (five missed cuts) with nothing in between, which makes him an interesting guy to watch in this format… McNealy leads the tour in strokes gained/putting and has three top 10s this year. After dealing with injuries last month, his game appears to be back on track, making the cut at both the Players and the Valspar.