We’re a little over two weeks out from the first Major of the season at the Masters and the best players in the world converge on Austin, Texas for golf’s version of March madness, the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play that tees off on Wednesday. On the European Tour meanwhile, those who dream of joining the elite Stateside in the future, tee it up in India at the Hero Indian Open.
A par 71 designed by Pete Dye, it plays to around 7,100 yards and features elevation changes, pot bunkers, and strategic play, which all lend itself to providing a great Match Play test and the host venue Austin Country Club is now in its fourth year of staging the event.
Since 2015 it has followed a ‘round robin’ format, with 16 groups of four, where each group member plays each other over the first three days. Group winners then qualify for the last 16 knock-out stage, played over the weekend.
Despite shocks along the way, the winner is always a big name and the last three years has seen Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson triumph and the first thing to look at are the seedings.
They are key to our way forward.
The seedings are based on world rankings, meaning that market leaders, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, ranked one and four in the world, are set to meet in the semi finals.
For Rory to get that far he will potentially also have to get past world number five seed and third favourite Justin Thomas in the quarter final. DJ’s projected quarter final opponent is fourth favourite, Jon Rahm!
On this basis I am loathed to get involved with any of the top four in the market.
Instead, I will turn to three players in the other half of the draw, starting with ‘Mr Major’ Brooks Koepka (18/1).
Prior to missing last year’s edition through injury, Brooks had played in Austin twice, won six out of nine matches and made the last 16 and quarter finals.
The main rival on paper in his group is a hopelessly out of form Alex Noren, so you would have to fancy Brooks to come through. One more win after that brings a place in the quarter finals and a guaranteed e/w profit thanks to Paddy paying the first eight places – with the possibility of more to come.
Next up I will side with South African Louis Oosthuizen (33/1). Louis has won 10 out of 14 matches at this venue and was runner up in 2016. He played very nicely at the Valspar at the weekend and is the second seed in a group headed up by Tommy Fleetwood, who has fallen at the first hurdle in his previous two visits.
For my final selection, I am going to take a chance that Texan Jordan Spieth (40/1) can bounce back to form in his home state.
Six months ago you would have struggled to get 40/1 about Spieth to be the next US President – never mind winning a golf tournament. However, the odds reflect his recent slump.
What has been noticeable to me though is that he has been making cuts but throwing in a couple of horror holes, which have derailed him. My logic here then is that in Match Play a really bad hole just costs one hole so I’m happy to chance that the change in format may be just what he needs to spark him back to life.
For the third year running this event takes place at a brute of a course, the DLF G&CC in New Delhi and Paddy’s paying 7 places.
Played on a par 72 of just under 7,400 yards, the winner this week will have earned the over-sized cheque by grinding it out and limiting the double bogeys. Only 23 players have finished under par in the past two editions of this tournament.
The two for me Aaron Rai (30/1) and local hero Shubhankar Sharma (20/1). Rai showed when winning in Hong Kong last autumn that his straight hitting tee-to-green game is suited to a tough test – and he was ninth here last year.
Sharma most is a member at the course so he knows it better than most, was solid last week in Malaysia, and like Rai played well here last year.