Forget the hoops. The real madness in March is happening this week on the PGA Tour. The 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play pairings have been announced, and though the reveal lacks the gravitas of college basketball’s selection show, the drama that lies ahead should 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 first holding the event in 2016, and this year’s tournament promises much of the same.
The event revamped its format in 2015, ditching a straight single-elimination bracket 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 their World Ranking entering the event; 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 (Sweet 16 and quarter-finals) and Sunday (semi-finals and final). Here are the round-robin groups 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 — including an emphatic win at the Players Championship — and is the defending match-play champ. If that wasn’t enough, Scheffler also finished second at Austin CC in his debut in 2021 and proved his match-play merits at the 2021 Ryder Cup. Expect him to be a tour de force again back in the town where he went to college.
Kim has somewhat cooled off from his torrid stretch last autumn, finishing outside the top 30 in five of his last six starts, but if the Presidents Cup was any indication Kim should shine in this week’s format.
Noren has 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 quarters 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, signaling 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 heater 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 as of late, missing the cut in four of his last six starts and entering the week 146th in SG/tee-to-green. But Austin CC should be just the analgesic Horschel needs, as he won here in 2021 and advanced to the weekend last year.
Mitchell has been damn 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 No. 59 in the OWGR needs a good performance to move into the top 50 and to earn a Masters invite. He finished third at this event in 2014, but this will be the first time playing in 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 fourth-place finish at this tournament as well, but he has not advanced out of pool play in three of the past four years. Still, the wide-open confines of Austin CC are seemingly 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 SG/putting last year) should make the former U.S. Amateur runner-up 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), KH Lee (35), Nick Taylor (55)
Cantlay is 0-for-4 in advancing out of pool play. However, he does arrive in Texas 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 (University of Georgia, Class of 2009), and often plays like one, having made the weekend in two of his three Match Play appearances.
Lee has been relatively quiet this season but proved his match-play chops at last year’s Presidents Cup, winning two points for the Internationals.
Watch out for Taylor, who has four top-10s on the 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, and both were 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 SG/tee-to-green, third in strokes gained) should make him a formidable foe.
This format continues to give Matsuyama fits, as the former Masters champ has not advanced out of pool play in his last five starts.
That’s the opposite of Kisner. It’s unclear if Kisner is really good at match play or he just really enjoys Austin CC, 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 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 appearance in 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 SG/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 SG/approach) vaults him into the weekend, and perhaps even a first-class ride home.
Wise arrives in Austin cold, missing the cut in four of his past five starts. However, he is one of the best putters on tour (eighth in SG/putting), which could make him lethal in this format.
Davis is a bit of a wild card. Entering TPC Sawgrass the Aussie had missed five straight cuts 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 Match Play and will be looking for similar good vibes this week. His return from the back injury that sidelined him last autumn hasn’t been the most auspicious of performances. although he did finish fourth at Riviera last month, Zalatoris hasn’t been better than T-36 in four other full-field starts.
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 last seven starts. But he made the most out of one of those made weekends, finishing T-2 at Bay Hill.
Putnam finished second in the fall at the Zozo Championship and T-4 early this year at the Sony Open. Since then, however, not much has gone right, missing the cut in four of his last five starts.
Viktor Hovland (8), Chris Kirk (28), Si Woo Kim (34), Matt Kuchar (59)
Hovland finished T-3 at the Players, continuing a run of strong play (eighth in SG/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 CC 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 less than 125 (16th in approach). As long as he keeps it in the ballpark — which shouldn’t be a problem at Austin CC —Kirk could be trouble.
Kim is 19th in SG/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, just making the weekend once in five starts.
Don’t sleep on Kuchar; he’s finished third or better four times at Match Play, including a runner-up 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 SG/approach and four in SG/tee-to-green. Made it out of pool play last year. If his putter cooperates, he has the all-around game to make it to the finals.
According to DataGolf, only Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler have a better true strokes-gained figure than Day over the past three months. However, since winning the event in 2016, Day has not advanced out of pool play.
Svensson made news with his win at the RSM Classic in the fall, yet has quietly been putting together some good golf with three top-25s in his last 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 CC and the results show, failing to advance out of his pool 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 last six starts?
Meronk’s in the field thanks to a win at last year’s Australian Open. A solid week could put the Polish native in the running for a Ryder Cup spot
At 135th in strokes gained, Bezuidenhout enters as one of the coldest players in the field. Even so, he was in the mix at the Players before a final-round 74 took him out of the proceedings.
Matt Fitzpatrick (11), Sahith Theegala (26), Min Woo Lee (41), JJ Spaun (61)
Fitzpatrick won the 2013 USAmateur and 2012 British Boys Amateur, so the Englishman does have some big match-play 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 of 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.
Lee proved he could hang at the Players, still managing a T-6 when nothing went right on Sunday. A good week at the Match Play could earn him PGA Tour membership for next season.
Spaun is making his Match Play debut, but it doesn’t come at the best of times, as he has missed the cut in four of his last 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 pool play just once in his last 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 flat stick (second in SG/putting) should put the rest of his pod on upset alert.
Hughes won at the Sanderson last fall but has since been 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)
It has been a somewhat up-and-down season for Burns, entering 44th in strokes gained and 115th in approach. He 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 autumn (three top-fives, including a win) puts Power in Ryder Cup consideration. He’s kept his name in the conversation with four top-25s in 2023, and 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 along with a T-4 at the API 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 last four Match Play starts.
Henley has finished inside the top 15 just once in 10 starts this season, but he made the most of that weekend, winning at Mayakoba last autumn.
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 Saturday group 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 enters 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 SG/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 has seen him game go into a mini-slump, failing to finish T-53 in five starts. He’s too talented of a player for that streak to continue.
Sungjae Im (16), Tommy Fleetwood (24), JT 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 quarterfinals 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 SG/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.