Golf Rankings for WGC - Dell Match Play
This week, (the good players) on Tour head to the WGC-Match Play in Austin, while (the not-so-good) other players head to the Dominican Republic. We'll touch on both in this piece, but I'll keep the bulk of my article for the WGC-Match Play, for which there are larger DraftKings contests. This is obviously a unique week, due to the reduced field size and the format. Sixty-four golfers will compete in a match play bracket, beginning with round-robin "pods". If you have the best record in your four-man pod, you advance into the round of 16, from where it's single-elimination match play. Make sense? Last year was full of upsets, but it ultimately came down to a championship match between Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm.
The course this week is Austin Country Club, so you can imagine the ties Jordan Spieth (a University of Texas alum) has here. It's a short par-71 track, measuring just 7,073. The main defense of the course is the wind, which will definitely wreak havoc this week. That keeps the course playing firm and fast, and gives us an idea of which players to target. One of the cool parts of this course is how well it sets up for match play. There are short par-5s, long par-5s, drivable par-4s... the works. You're going to see plenty of fireworks, and we're going to be targeting birdie makers this week. The format for DraftKings is correlated with number of holes won and number of matches won, so we just want to rack up as many birdies and eagles as possible, while hopefully nailing the finalists.
This week's field is headlined by Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, and Rory McIlroy. If I had to pick one of these guys to win this week, it would be Dustin Johnson.
Birdie or Better % (BoB%): There are really not many weeks where we aren't going to target birdie or better percentage, because that's what fantasy golf scoring is all about. Guys like Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, Xander Schauffele, and Jon Rahm come to mind in this week's field when targeting birdie makers. We also need points for matches won, which will be a product of guys making a ton of birdies and eagles.
Strokes Gained Approach (SG:APP): Austin CC will bring out the elite ball-strikers, thanks to firm conditions and extreme winds. There are also a ton of longer par-4s, so I'm targeting elite long iron players this week. I'm going to target SG:APP because players who find the most greens and give themselves the most short birdie opportunities will capitalize most. If you have a player who sticks approach shots inside 10' consistently, he's going to shoot up the leaderboard and contend on Sunday. Some names that stand out in the field are Adam Hadwin, Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson, Luke List, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and Xander Schauffele.
SG:Off-the-Tee (SG:OTT): Off-the-tee play is key each and every week. Austin CC is no exception, with players needing to play as aggressively as possible. Match play is a different format than stroke play in that risks are worth taking. Names that stood out to me in this field were Bubba Watson, Tommy Fleetwood, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm .Tony Finau, Justin Thomas, and Kevin Chappell.
Jon Rahm - World Ranking: #11
Rahm seems to have hit a mini-slump, but it's only because he's making too many bogeys. He continues to be a prolific birdie-maker and threat to win every week. Rahm finished 2nd here last season, and is out for redemption. He drew a very easy opening pod, so there's no doubt in my mind he'll advance. He's long off-the-tee, an elite iron player, but struggles around the green at times.
Dustin Johnson - World Ranking: #1
With tough pricing and unpredictable results this week, I think people will hesitate to roster DJ. However, he's the defending champion and got one of the best (softest) draws. He will cakewalk through the round robin, and should be primed for another deep run. He's one of the most prolific birdie-makers on Tour, and can demoralize opponents with his distance off-the-tee.
Jason Day - World Ranking: #4
There aren't too many players hotter than Jason Day right now. After winning Torrey Pines and finishing 2nd at Pebble Beach, he flashed some game last weekend at Bay Hill. He's an extremely talented driver and putter, so the irons will dictate his success this week. Day is a two-time champion of this event, so there's something about match play that he really enjoys. Day is firmly in play this week and for the Masters.
Rory McIlroy - World Ranking: #3
That was vintage Rory at Bay Hill. A Sunday 64 stole the show and stole the tournament, and he seemed to have his swag back. This is gearing up to be one of the best years in golf history, with the returns of Tiger Woods and Rory. He's a past champion of this event, and has a pretty friendly opening pod. My only concern for Rory is that he still makes a ton of mistakes, and could struggle to focus after a win.
Justin Thomas - World Ranking: #12
Surprisingly, JT hasn't had any success here the past two years. Both times, he failed to advance out of group play. On paper, he's the perfect match play candidate due to his immense upside and birdie-making abilities. He comes into this week with a chance to become world #1, if things go his way.
Jordan Spieth - World Ranking: #6
Spieth should be a great match play candidate, but he's had zero success in this format over-the-years. Furthermore, he's got a terrible singles record in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups. I think that's gotten in his head, because he constantly brings it up. Although he's the favorite in his group, I think Patrick Reed has a great shot to steal it. Spieth is likely looking ahead to Augusta.
Phil Mickelson - World Ranking: #24
It's been a career year for Mickelson already, winning the WGC-Mexico Championship. He's gearing up for another run at the Masters, and is definitely motivated since Tiger's return. He also wants to make another Ryder Cup, which could be his last as a player. Mickelson made a run into the quarter-finals here last season, and has a pretty easy draw. He'll have a tough match against Rafa Cabrera-Bello which will likely decide his fate.
Hideki Matsuyama - World Ranking: #2
Matsuyama showed some signs of life in his return from a wrist injury, but only managed a 49th last week at Bay Hill. He's struggled in match play over the years, but I think his draw is very favorable. He'll have to contend with young phenom Patrick Cantlay - who will be a very popular pick - but Hideki is still the favorite. He's one of the best ball-strikers in the world, but struggles week-to-week with his putting.
Paul Casey - World Ranking: #16
Casey is coming off a win at the Valspar. Casey plays very well in this format, is an elite ball-striker, and has been making as many birdies as anyone in the field. Casey also drew a very easy group, facing Matt Fitzpatrick, Russell Henley, and Kyle Stanley. He's the first player in my cash games this week.
Sergio Garcia - World Ranking: #5
Garcia is an interesting case study this week, because he should be one of the favorites on paper. However, he recently had a baby and probably hasn't had much golf on his mind the past week or two. He also has tons of media obligations leading up to the Masters, where he'll host the defending champion's dinner. Garcia is a dynamic ball-striker and birdie maker, and has a home in Austin.
Tommy Fleetwood - World Ranking: #21
Fleetwood continues to churn out solid finishes, even with a poor start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is his first crack at match play, which worries me a bit, but it'll be a great tune-up for his Ryder Cup debut this fall. Fleetwood is one of the best ball-strikers in the world, and that will wear down his opponents in match play. He's also proven to be a very clutch putter, and I expect him to sneak past Berger and Chappell in his group.
Alex Noren - World Ranking: #8
Noren has turned a corner this season, and continues to knock on the door of his first PGA Tour win. He basically does everything well, but sometimes makes a few too many bogeys. Noren is accurate with his irons, and has proven to be an elite scrambler. In his debut last year, he made a run to the quarterfinals. Although he's in a brutal group against Finau, Pieters, and Na, he's still the favorite.
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