Sixty-four of the world’s best head to Austin, Texas this week for the PGA Tour’s version of March Madness. This year will mark the second playing of the tournament’s new format, which divides the players into 16 four-man pods that play each other in round-robin match play format Wednesday through Friday. One player advances from each pod into the single elimination field that starts Saturday morning. The stout field includes 59 of the world’s top 64 players, with the only notable absentees being Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Adam Hadwin. Check out the early round match play pods here.
My favorite golf moment in the last five years happened at this event in 2015, when a fist fight nearly broke out between Miguel Angel Jimenez and Keegan Bradley during a match. Enjoy re-living this experience here.
Last year, Jason Day overcame difficult-to-walk back spasms in the opening rounds to win the title in the inaugural playing of the event in Austin. Day entered the week coming off of a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and cemented himself as the world’s best player by defeating Rory McIlroy in the semifinals and steamrolling Louis Oosthuizen 5&4 in the finals.
The WGC event is hosted at beautiful Austin Country Club which was designed by the legendary Pete Dye in 1984. Austin CC breaks the preconceived notion that Texas is flat. It’s perched in Hill Country and includes a dramatic stretch of holes that descends on Lake Austin and provides ample drama with its many risk-reward par 4s and short par 3s. Last year saw many bombers cutting corners and hitting mammoth drives due to the firm fairways.
Storylines to watch
Dustin Johnson will head into the event looking for his third consecutive win and second consecutive WGC crown. The world’s top-ranked player has taken a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot following his romp at Riviera and his nail-biting win in Mexico City.
Knocking on the door
Rory McIlroy has found himself in contention in his first two starts since coming back from a rib injury, only to be foiled by too many bogeys. Last year’s semifinal run proves he is comfortable at the course and the match play format allows for some added mistakes.
6 early round matchups to watch - (all times CST)
Much like the NCAA Tournament’s March Madness, the PGA Tour has turned their selection show into a spectacle, creating a show on Monday to announce the 16 pods that player’s will be in. These pods lead to some heavyweight and interesting showdowns in the events early rounds. Here are 6 that I have my eye on.
Sergio Garcia - Jon Rahm: Fri. 11:20 AM
In the battle of Spanish stars, the veteran Sergio Garcia will square off against the phenom Jon Rahm. In what is sure to be a ball-striking fiesta, this is the match to watch on Friday and should give a good look at what could be a strong European Ryder Cup pairing for 2018.
Justin Thomas - Matt Fitzpatrick: Fri 9:52 AM
A matchup of America's and England’s bright young stars should provide great entertainment as each plays a different style of golf. The five-time winner and 23-year-old American Justin Thomas will look to overpower the golf course while the 22-year-old Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick prefers to dissect the golf course with precision and accuracy.
Rory McIlroy - Gary Woodland: Thur 2:16 PM
Two of the longest and best drivers on Tour.
Phil Mickelson - Daniel Berger: Thur 12:26 PM
This matchup should be filled with birdies as it pits two of the PGA Tour’s most aggressive players. Mickelson will look to continue to build form towards Augusta, and Daniel Berger will look to impress and build his match play resume and avoid missing out on future Ryder and Presidents Cup teams.
Patrick Reed - Jason Dufner: Wed 11:42 AM
Wednesday’s matchup between Reed and Dufner should provide a stark contrast in styles. Patrick Reed is among the Tour’s more animated players especially in a match play setting while Jason Dufner is extremely cerebral. Patrick Reed’s match play success is well documented, but Jason Dufner has impressed in his limited showings and comes into the week in good form with top 25s in his last four starts.
Jordan Spieth - Ryan Moore: Fri. 12:48 PM
Each is armed with illustrious match play careers as amateurs. This matchup will pit two of the PGA Tour’s fiercest competitors. Spieth will be looking to earn another title in his home state of Texas while Ryan Moore looks to add a big professional match play trophy to his collection which includes the U.S. Amateur, Public Links and Western Amateur.
With double-barrel action this week on the PGA Tour, Paulie has you covered with one and done and longshot suggestions for the Match Play along with Draftkings and one and done picks for the opposite field event in Puerto Rico. Check out Paulie’s Picks here.
Down in Puerto Rico
For the PGA Tour’s lesser known, this week offers an excellent opportunity to earn a high finish and improve their status at the Puerto Rico Open. With the big name stars teeing it up in Austin, this field is filled with young players fighting for starts and veterans who are looking to earn some valuable FedEx Cup points to ensure their cards for next year. Last year, Tony Finau won the title and with it earned a valuable two-year exemption and winner’s status on Tour. Check out the PGA Tour’s full preview here.
After a month long layoff, the Web.com Tour is back with the first event on U.S. soil, the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. The Web.com Tour scheduling is a real head scratcher as this week’s event is the only event in a 7-week span, with the next tournament the week of April 20th. Nonetheless, players such as Andrew Landry, Ethan Tracy and Andrew Putnam will look to continue their strong play despite the lengthy layoff. Meanwhile, the extended break gave players who didn’t get off to the start they envisioned an opportunity to regroup and work on their games in preparation for the meat of the 2017 season.
A shot from Mossy Oak
To break up a lengthy drive from Chicago to Austin, I made a stop at the new Gil Hanse designed Mossy Oak Golf Club in West Point, Mississippi. For all the golf course architecture enthusiasts, we will have a fresh article for you on Friday. In the meantime, here’s a shot from high above Mossy Oak.
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