WGC Dell World Match Play Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THE very nature of the WGC Dell World Match Play Championship means that the best player does not always necessarily win it. You could shoot seven under par and lose while somebody in another match goes round in three over and wins.
All that you can do is beat the man who is put in front of you in each round, and that means that the golfers who are capable of making lots of birdies should do well. It is a tournament that has been good to European golfers, with Darren Clarke winning it in 2000, Henrik Stenson in 2007 and Ian Poulter in 2010. Luke Donald was the 2011 champion, followed by Hunter Mahan in 2012, Matt Kuchar in 2013, Rory McIlroy in 2015 and Day again 12 months ago. McIlroy also finished runner-up in 2012.
The knockout tournament is being played at Austin Country Club, Texas, with the champion walking away with a bucketload of world ranking and FedEx Cup points, together with a cheque for about $1.7m.
Since it was launched back in 1999 there have been some surprising winners and runners-up, but this could be the year when the game's big guns make it their own. Dustin Johnson, winner of his past two starts and the world number one, returns to action after a two-week break and is clearly the man to beat.
He fits all the right criteria - he hits ball miles, has developed a world-class short game and makes birdies - lots of them. He also devours par fives for breakfast and will stand on each tee knowing that he will be hitting the ball at least 50 yards further than his opponents. That is a huge advantage.
Phil Mickelson keeps coming close without being able to finish off the job, but matchplay should suit him down to the ground because he will be able to get away throwing in the odd triple-bogey. In strokeplay, one bad hole can destroy a card; in matchplay, he can bounce back with a birdie at the next hole. And Lefty makes lots of birdies.
He is coming towards the end of his PGA Tour career, but has no plans to disappear and fade away. You can be certain that he will be heading to Augusta next month believing that he can still win another Green Jacket, and he would not be in Austin unless he believed he could win.
The dream final would be Johnson against McIlroy, and the Northern Irishman has a great record in this tournament. He is a fighter, a golfer who simply hates to lose. And he fears nobody. The Ryder Cup brings out the best in McIlroy and that, too, is matchplay. If he has his putting boots on, he will be almost impossible to beat.
But the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed could all say the same thing. And that is without considering the merits of Tyrrell Hatton, the high-flying young Englishman who is not afraid to shoot low scores and makes birdies for fun. Reed has struggled for fitness and form so far in 2017, but he is always capable of stringing good play together and he adores matchplay.
Spieth is the best putter in the world. Period. If there somebody you had to back to hole a 15-footer to save your life, it would be Spieth. He struggled with his irons last year but currently leads the greens hit in regulation statistics, and if you keep doing that and drain putts the way he does then you are going to be very, very difficult to beat.
Jon Rahm, of Spain, has now joined the European Tour and is already nicely placed in the Race to Dubai - he is surely a shoo-in for Thomas Bjorn's Ryder Cup teaam next year. The young man has already won on the PGA Tour and seems to be there or thereabouts every time he plays. He is another who is capable of stringing lots of birdies together and will surely fancy his chances of yet another good finish. I have a sneaky feeling that he might do well at Augusta too.
There will be pressure on Day to rediscover that took him to the title last year and the world number one spot. He has looked like a soul lost in recent months, not helped by a series of niggling injuries. When he was sweeping all before him, Day seemed imperious and looked unbeatable - rather like Johnson right now. Most worrying for the Australian, he has started spraying the ball about from the tee and is struggling on the greens. At one point he looked like holing everything he looked at.
Dustin Johnson. Can anybody beat him?
Rory McIlroy. Looking good again
Jordan Spieth. Capable of putting the lights out
Dustin Johnson. In the form of his life
Rory McIlroy. Adores matchplay
Jordan Spieth. Hates losing
Phil Mickelson. Anything could happen
Jon Rahm. Belongs at the very highest level
Justin Thomas. Enjoying a brilliant season
Hideki Matsuyama. Looking for another big week ahead of Augusta
Brandt Snedeker. Hard to beat if he putts well
Tyrrell Hatton. A birdie machine
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