Dell WGC Match Play Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE lottery that is the WGC Dell Match Play takes place at Austin, Texas, with all 64 players in the field knowing that, if they get the right breaks, they can walk away with a cheque for well over £1m tucked into their back pocket, along with a bucketload of world rankings points.
For this week at least, there will be no mention of Tiger Woods – according to his world ranking at least, he is not good enough, although you can be certain that if his recent progress continues he will be back here next year as one of the top seeds. For the record, Woods finished 2017 ranked 656th in the world; after his runner-up finish at Innisbrook he had improved to 149th. And his performance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational will see him climb further. Who would have thought it?
But we digress. The Dell was won in 2011 by Luke Donald, in 2012 by Hunter Mahan, in 2013 by Matt Kuchar, in 2014 and 2016 Jason Day, in 2015 by Rory McIlroy and in 2017 by Dustin Johnson.
When the new rankings were released on Monday, March 12, there was one significant change – Charles Howell III found himself replaced by the new Indian sensation Shubhankar Sharma. The 21-year-old is walking on air right now. He has already won twice this season, finished in the top 10 at the WGC Mexico Championship and was seventh at the Hero Indian Open. He was in position to win his home Open but a series of double-bogeys derailed his challenge. Astonishingly, he also leads the Race to Dubai.
Sharma has been invited to play in The Masters and immediately told the world: “The way I am playing right now, there is no reason why I cannot win at Augusta. I know that most golfers who play at Augusta for the first time can struggle but I cannot wait to get there."
There will be a huge amount of interest in the performance of Phil Mickelson, who returned to the winners’ circle in Mexico when he beat Justin Thomas, the US PGA champion, in a playoff. Mickelson has been in fine form for some time and now that he has finally remembered how to cross the line again it would surprise nobody to see him do so again very soon. It is a surprise that Lefty has never won this event because it should be made to measure for his style of golf. It means that the odd double-bogey only results in the loss of a single hole and does no harm to his scorecard.
Even when he was struggling, Mickelson was always likely to reel off several birdies in a round. He only knows to play one way, and that is by going for the flag, no matter the risks. He has been blessed with a magical short game, and his powers of recovery on and around the greens have not deserted him, which makes him a dangerous opponent. With The Masters just around the corner, Mickelson would love nothing more than to win again.
Thomas and Jon Rahm, of Spain, are also sure to be extremely difficult to beat. Thomas has become a winning machine and he shoots low scores for fun. He joined the 59 club last season, and there was also a glorious 63 at the US Open. Still only 24 years of age, the American already has eight PGA Tour victories to his name, six of which have come since January 2017. That is a quite remarkable return.
And then there is Rahm, who will not be 24 until November. He has only been a professional for about 19 months and is already the world’s third-ranked player, behind only Dustin Johnson and Thomas. He has won twice on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour and here’s the thing – all four of his victories have come on tough courses. Rahm has also found a remarkable level of consistency, with 17 top 10 finishes to his credit – for many golfers that would represent a successful career. It was only last year that the European Tour named his rookie of the year after he won the Irish Open and Dubai World Championship.
There has also been an encouraging return to form for Patrick Reed. And about time too, some may say. The feistiest character on the PGA Tour had the worst season of his career in 2017, developing a worrying propensity for tumbling down leaderboards on the final day – seven times he closed out with rounds of 74 or higher, and many of those came when he was in position to mount challenges to win. Like Mickelson, Reed is a golfer who knows only how to attack the flag, and those who play the game that way will always have periods when they struggle. It is the way a golfer recovers from such disappointments that defines him and Reed’s runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship was proof that he remains a ferocious competitor, able to take on and score well on the toughest of courses. And my feeling is that the time has come for him to win again.
Patrick Reed. Coming back to his best
Phil Mickelson. His game is made for matchplay
Patrick Reed. As feisty as any golfer on the planet
Phil Mickelson. Full of confidence again
Jon Rahm. Has one eye open Augusta
Branden Grace. On his day, he makes birdies for fun
Justin Thomas. The new winning machine
Sergio Garcia. On a high after the birth of his daughter
Alex Noren. Enjoying his time on the PGA Tour
Shubhankar Sharma. Living the dream
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