Paul Williams

Paul Williams' WGC Dell Match Play Tips 2019

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Love it loathe it from a betting perspective, we’re off to Austin, Texas this week for the annual congregation of the World’s top golfers at the WGC Dell Match Play Championship. 2 eligible players – Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott – have both opted not to play this week, otherwise all of the World’s top 64 are in attendance fighting for the top prize, so if nothing else we’re in for some serious entertainment as the tournament unfolds. From a betting perspective, don’t forget that this event starts a day earlier than normal on Wednesday.

As per the changes applied since the 2015 event, instead of the previous 4 brackets and a straight knockout tournament, we have 16 pools of 4 players who play each other over the first 3 days before the final 16 are eventually whittled down to 2 to fight it out in Sunday afternoon’s final. The 16 pools are seeded from Dustin Johnson to Patrick Reed if you work down the current OWGR rankings, with the remaining 48 players having been drawn on Monday’s live TV show. The final (printable) bracket is available here.

If you put any credence into course/event history when it comes to Match Play – and this event in particular – then the results prior to the 2016 renewal are fairly tenuous as all were played at different venues with TPC Harding Park hosting the 2015 edition after a 6-year stint at Dove Mountain prior to that. Professionals will tell you that Match Play is all about playing the opponent, however the course here has its own characteristics and challenges, particularly when the wind blows around these parts, so it shouldn’t be completely disregarded as a factor.

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Course Overview. Austin Country Club, which dates back to 1899 and is one of the oldest golf clubs in the state of Texas, is in the final year of its 4-year agreement to host this annual Match Play event. The Pete Dye track begins in the hillside before meandering down towards Lake Austin which flanks the back 9 and elevation changes, uneven fairways and pot bunkers will present the players with a significant enough challenge before the Match Play aspect even begins to kick in.

The 7,108 yard, par-71 features 3 lengthy Par 5s of 590, 578 and 565 yards on the 6th, 12th and 16th holes as well as three sub-400 yard par 4s at the 5th, 13th and 18th. Pete Dye courses are generally no pushover (think Harbour Town, TPC Louisiana, TPC Sawgrass and Whistling Straits) and although Match Play format is generally set up for more attacking, risk-reward golf, the layout here provides a lot more than a beautifully scenic backdrop.

In preparation for the 2016 event when the WGC moved here, the golf course underwent a complete restoration to bring it back in line with Dye’s original design. Greens were extended and re-laid with TifEagle Bermuda, plus the fairways were also updated to Bermudagrass as well as additional bunkering which was added throughout.

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some WGC Match Play history stats going back to 1999 to help with your research, plus of course there’s current form stats that take in the last 12 global tournaments that attracted OWGR points: Combined Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2018: Bubba Watson, 50/1; 2017: Dustin Johnson, 10/1; 2016: Jason Day, 14/1; 2015 Rory McIlroy, 11/1; 2014: Jason Day, 20/1; 2013: Matt Kuchar, 35/1; 2012: Hunter Mahan, 50/1; 2011: Luke Donald, 35/1; 2010: Ian Poulter, 28/1.

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Austin, Texas is here. A calm and sunny start to the week is expected before the clouds roll in as we head towards the weekend. Thunderstorms are possible on Saturday morning as we head into the knockout stages and a cold front will introduce cooler temperatures and showery rain on Sunday. Winds will peak at around 10-15 mph over the weekend.

Format. Players are allocated one of 16 groups of 4 players, each containing one of the seeded players and three others as drawn on Monday’s live TV show. A round-robin format follows for the first 3 days with each player facing the other 3 in their group over Wednesday to Friday and the winner of each group based on the results of those matches, or the winner of a deciding playoff if there’s a tie at the top, will advance to the knockout stages. 16 players will become 8, then 4 then 2 following a straight knockout format commencing on Saturday morning and the final pair will battle it out in the final on Sunday alongside the consolation 3rd/4th place play-off.

Incoming Form: The last 5 winners of this event had won an event on either the PGA Tour, or in the case of Rory McIlroy on the European Tour, in their last 5 starts. Going back to 2010, each winner had at least one top-10 finish in their last 4 starts, so current form has proven to be a very good pointer in recent times:

  • 2018: Bubba Watson: 17/MC/10/69/51/67/MC/40/35/1/9/66
  • 2017: Dustin Johnson: 18/8/1/6/35/3/6/2/MC/3/1/1
  • 2016: Jason Day: 1/12/1/1/12/1/10/10/MC/11/23/1
  • 2015: Rory McIlroy: 5/8/2/2/2/15/2/1/MC/9/11/4
  • 2014: Jason Day: 32/53/8/25/13/4/14/1/6/9/2/64
  • 2013: Matt Kuchar: 8/MC/38/35/54/10/7/11/9/5/16/38
  • 2012: Hunter Mahan: 19/43/8/42/2/7/WD/4/6/MC/15/24
  • 2011: Luke Donald: 3/46/MC/15/2/37/2/3/3/9/8/MC
  • 2010: Ian Poulter: 15/19/9/MC/20/1/45/5/9/5/2/MC

Event Form. Going back to 2014, the last 5 winners of this had reached the quarter-finals at least once in the past prior to picking up the trophy. None of the winners going back to 2010 were making their debut in this event, so some experience looks important when finding the winner:

  • 2018: Bubba Watson: 4/17/9/9/17/28/9
  • 2017: Dustin Johnson: 33/33/33/9/33/33/17/5
  • 2016: Jason Day: 9/17/3/1/52
  • 2015: Rory McIlroy: 5/17/17/2/33/17
  • 2014: Jason Day: 9/17/3
  • 2013: Matt Kuchar: 17/3/5
  • 2012: Hunter Mahan: 17/17/33/9
  • 2011: Luke Donald: 9/9/17/17/9/9
  • 2010: Ian Poulter: 5/4/33/9/17/9

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Digging too deep into past results often throws up nothing more than a red herring or two when it comes to Match Play and this event in particular. Expect the unexpected and keep stakes low would be my advice, however let’s have a go at applying some kind of framework to this week’s selections.

It’s interesting to look at the prices of the last 9 winners of this event: Ogilvy was 25/1 back in 2009, Poulter 28/1 in 2010, Donald 35/1 in 2011, Mahan 50/1 in 2012, Kuchar was 35/1 in 2013, Day was 20/1 in 2014, McIlroy was 11/1 in 2015, Day was 14/1 in 2016, DJ was 10/1 in 2017 and Bubba was 50/1 last year. No massive shocks in that list with Mahan and Watson the longest price of the bunch at 50/1; around three-quarters of the field are priced outside of that bracket and with 7 successful matches required to lift the trophy perhaps there’s more than just coincidence that one of the more fancied players has succeeded on each of those occasions.

In contrast though, there’s still been some value in the each-way places with Kevin Kisner (125/1) making the final last year, Bill Haas (90/1) and Hideto Tanihara (300/1) both making the semi-finals in 2017 and Rafa Cabrera-Bello (125/1) finishing 3rd the year before. The result from Harding Park in 2015 also produced a couple of 3-figure each-way places in the shape of Gary Woodland (125/1) and Danny Willett (150/1), neither of whom had shown much in the way of form before progressing all the way through to Sunday’s matches.

The course here on paper would seem to suit more accurate types with the danger that lurks from off the cut-and-prepared, however power has seen the likes of Jason Day, Louis Oosthuzien, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Bubba Watson contest the three finals that have been played here with only Kevin Kisner falling outside of that type of player. An aggressive style and a liking for Bermudagrass greens is a good starter for this week, however ultimately to progress to Sunday a player’s going to need to handle the mental side of Match Play golf first and foremost.

My final selections are as follows:

Rory McIlroy 3pts Win 10/1 with bet365

With your bracket to hand, let’s work around the four quarters in an anti-clockwise direction, starting with the section containing Dustin Johnson in the top-left.

This is the trickiest of the quarters to decipher in my view as an in-form DJ could brush aside all-comers, although it’s never that easy in this format as we all well know as his group-stage exit 12 months ago highlights once again. Hideki Matsuyama probably presents the biggest challenge to the World Number 1 after a strong weekend performance at TPC Sawgrass, however his record in Match Play isn’t the best and I’d expect DJ to sneak through to play the winner of Reed/Garcia/Lowry/Putnam with Sergio my tentative pick of the 4. In the bottom half, I was rather hoping that Matt Kuchar would get a more favourable draw given his winning form of late, previous success in this format and liking for Pete Dye tracks, however the looming figure of Jon Rahm, runner-up here in 2017, at the head of that group is off-putting and Kuchar is going to have to overcome him, potentially Xander Schauffele and then again potentialy DJ to make it to the semis which makes this whole section a no-bet for me.

I’ll start this week’s team then in the bottom-left section as you navigate around the bracket anti-clockwise and I’ll take Rory McIlroy to build on his Players Championship success and win back-to-back titles for the 3rd time in his career. One thing we know about Rory is that he can undoubtedly hold his form when he finds it and that success at TPC Sawgrass will have cleared any doubts in his mind that he had about converting the missed opportunities from the previous weeks, and it wouldn’t surprise me one but to see him push on and win again this week.

Much is made about digging some value out at this event given the vagaries of the format, however with 3 of the past 4 winners of this rating as 14/1 or shorter chances before the start, if you’re looking for the outright winner then it’s hard to argue that the cream has tended to rise to the top in this event of late. One of those short-priced winners of this was Rory himself as he defeated Gary Woodland 4&2 in the final at Harding Park in 2015 and he has 2 further semi-final appearances in this event including here in Texas in 2016. One of the more experienced Match Play exponents with 5 Ryder Cups played and 4 won since his debut in 2010, a group containing Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List hardly sends shivers down my spine and although it gets tougher from there with a potential last-16 clash with Tiger Woods looming, to win this he’s going to need to beat all-comers and with winning confidence restored I suspect he can do just that.

Strong on Bermuda greens, a decent enough record on Peter Dye tracks and a weekend forecast with rain to soften the ground, that could well play into his hands, all suggests to me that a wager on Rory to win outright makes most sense this week. RESULT: Round Of 16

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Ian Poulter 1pt EW 45/1 (4EW, 1/4) with Bet Fred

Working round to the bottom-right quadrant we find world No.3 Brooks Koepka’s segment, however the 3-time Major Champion has seemed out-of-sorts of late with a missed cut at Bay Hill and a never-nearer 56th place finish at Sawgrass on his last start and, despite having progressed from his group here the last two times he’s played, he’s never made it further than the quarter-finals in this event. Bryson DeChambeau and Tommy Fleetwood sit uneasily atop their respective groups in the top-half of this section, however my preference is to take Match Play animal Ian Poulter who’s second seed in Tony Finau’s group and who’s been playing good enough strokeplay golf of late to suggest that he can progress in his favourite format of the game.

Poulter’s Ryder Cup record of 12 wins from 18 matches is the stuff of legend and the Englishman remains unbeaten in Sunday Singles, including most recently at Le Golf National when he beat Dustin Johnson on the 17th hole. Twice a WGC winner – one of which was in this event back in 2010 when it was played at Dove Mountain – the 43 year-old has also reached the semi-finals twice more and got as far as the quarter-finals here in Austin 12 months ago after an indifferent start to the season that had seen him record just a solitary top-10 finish since the start of the year.

2019 has been far kinder to a resurgent Poulter who got back to winning ways on the PGA Tour immediately after this event in Houston last year and 4 top-6 finishes from his last 6 global starts is enough encouragement for me to get involved here. He started strongly at The Players Championship, sitting in 3rd at the halfway point, however he let the crowd get under his skin with his family watching and his chance fell away over the weekend. With Rory McIlroy converting that week, sandwiched in-between further successes for form Ryder Cup teammates Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari, I’m expect Ian Poulter’s game face to be well and truly on this week in Austin as he looks to make it a 4th European winner on the trot on the PGA Tour. RESULT: Group Stage

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Bubba Watson 1pt EW 28/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

Finally I’ll take a chance on Bubba Watson defending his title here having watched Paul Casey do the same thing last week at Copperhead. One thing we know about Bubba is that he performs on the tracks that he likes and virtually switches off on the ones that he doesn’t, so last year’s success here at Austin CC can only be taken as a positive each time that he returns in the future.

Although his Ryder Cup record isn’t a patch on that of Ian Poulter’s as detailed above, it has to be taken into the context of him playing in a period of European domination in that event in the most part and for me his win here and previous semi-final appearance on 2011 event debut back is of far more relevance. Coupled with a strong performance at last week’s Valspar Championship where he finished in a tie for 4th place to equal his 2019 best finish, I suspect he’ll make a decent fist of defending his title here this week.

A group containing Jordan Spieth would ordinarily ring alarm bells, however Spieth has been out-of-sorts for some time now and the last event in which he broke the top-30 was way back in September and with Kevin Na sporadically withdrawing of late through injury, perhaps Bubba’s biggest obstacle to getting out of the group may well be Billy Horschel. 2014 FedEx Cup champion Horschel has been putting better of late, however his normally dependable long game hasn’t been evident in recent weeks and he’s never progressed further than the second stage in this event in either the knockout or round-robin format to suggest he’ll give the defending champion much trouble here. Just Rose may well be the player waiting in the round of 16, however with the generous each-way terms on this selection he’ll only need to progress past that round to secure an each-way payout with Betfair. RESULT: Group Stage

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 10:10GMT 26.3.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.