Be honest, once South Carolina took down Duke on Sunday, your NCAA Tournament bracket was totally busted. Never fear, the Dell Technologies Match Play is here! A chance for bracket redemption arrives just one week after college basketball whittled things down to 16 teams.
Which 16 golfers will survive and advance? That may be the trickiest question of them all. No matter your opinion of the pods system and how the tournament arrives at them, we have 16 groups to dissect in the hopes of identifying a potential winner. It’s an inexact science, so here we go…
Group 1 – Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Martin Kaymer and Webb Simpson
The bouncing balls did #1 no favors, as the group features four major champions. There is only one other group that features two! DJ also draws players near the top half of Pool B and Pool C. Being the best doesn’t come with perks in this field. Walker hasn’t been spectacular but has found better consistency. Oh, and he’s got a home state edge. Kaymer hasn’t missed a cut in over a year. Simpson found some confidence in Scottsdale earlier this year. Proven guys.
Winner? Nobody has touched Johnson this year. You can’t bet against him, but it won’t be easy.
Group 3 – Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood, Pat Perez
This might be the one group where you could make the argument, equally, for all four, all for good reasons. Perez is red hot and up 81 spots in the world since last year. Westwood is a veteran gamer who has been unspectacularly consistent of late. Leishman just won. Day defends and has the greatest upside. Juggle all four, roll the dice and see who wins.
Winner? For sheer entertainment value, wouldn’t a Perez win help vindicate him from his Tiger comments controversy?
Group 4 – Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Ross Fisher, Jim Furyk
A top three talent in 2017 headlines the group with some scary, grizzled veterans in pursuit. Matsuyama has only made it to the fourth round here once, and then got drubbed by McIlroy. Oosthuizen sports a 15-7 record in this event, with a runner-up last year, and back-to-back quarterfinals appearances the two years prior. It may be tough to think Furyk can win three matches, but would you bet against him?
Winner? Hard to pick against Oosthuizen’s match play record, including a 5th earlier this year in the European Tour’s unique event in Australia.
Group 16 – Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood, Zach Johnson, Brendan Steele
One of the hottest players in the world (Fleetwood) in a group with one of the hottest ballstrikers of 2016-17 (Steele). Who gets them? One of the great grinders/putters of this generation (Johnson) and a former champion of this event who is one of the hardest outs in match play (Kuchar). This could be really fun.
The Cake Walks
Group 2 – Rory McIlroy, Emiliano Grillo, Gary Woodland, Soren Kjeldsen
On paper, this seems like a test for Rory. A month ago, that argument was easier. Woodland was rolling and you got the feeling he could contend. Then, his putter went cold. Grillo’s club toss last week gives McIlroy a huge leg up on the mental side. Kjeldsen found life on the PGA Tour to be difficult to navigate to start the year. The way Rory has hit it the last few weeks, he should be the favorite to win it all.
Winner? McIlroy. Easily.
Group 5 – Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore, Yuta Ikeda, Hideto Tanihara
It’s a bit unfair that both Japanese players end up in the same group (the same happened with both Aussies), and it’s also hard to imagine them giving Spieth much resistance. Ryan Moore has a sterling match play record, especially as an amateur, but so does Spieth. He’s the superstar that has been overlooked in 2017. Time for another trophy.
Group 9 – Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner, Jason Dufner
Reed sports a 6-3 record in this tournament, and a 13-6-1 match play record when you factor in Ryder Cups and President Cups. He also never lost a college match in two trips to the NCAA championship. Koepka’s game is limping into this tournament. Dufner played his way in and is showing life, but is it enough? Kisner wants redemption for last weekend. How is this a cake walk? Reed wants to destroy you. Kisner might fight back, but Reed had no trouble dispatching Georgia Bulldogs in college to win, so why would that start now?
Winner? Reed, sheepishly.
The Top Heavy
Group 7 – Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Kevin Chappell, Shane Lowry
Chappell hasn’t had a top 30 finish since Atlanta. Lowry left injured at Riviera and hasn’t played since. That leaves the must-DVR match of the group round. Garcia isn’t ready to pass the Spaniard torch to Rahm, who is poised to be the country’s best golfer. The winner of that match should win the group. It will be epic.
Winner? Rahm now. Sergio later this year.
Group 10 – Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Jeunghun Wang, Charles Howell III
Hatton has been so good since coming to the states, earning special temporary member status on the PGA Tour without breaking a sweat. Cabrera Bello made a deep run last year and has been beaten in this tournament only once without extra holes. It could be a shotmaking slugfest at the top. Wang has won three times in a year, but looked overmatched finishing 71st in Mexico City. CH3 gets a much deserved start, but hasn’t finished inside the top 40 since moving off the west coast.
Winner? Cabrera Bello
The Wide Open
Group 6 – Justin Thomas, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Kevin Na, Chris Wood
If Thomas drives it straight, he will hit second on every hole against Fitzpatrick and Na. But, after the sterling, record-setting start, Thomas was humanized to end the winter. Fitzy is the English counterpart of Thomas, a heralded junior player who is now putting it all together. This is a big opportunity for him, and he is playing well. Na and Wood are cashing checks, and each could play spoiler.
Winner? Easy to pick Thomas. Easier to see somebody else swipe it.
Group 8 – Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari, Bernd Wiesberger, Thongchai Jaidee
Molinari’s top 10 last week at Bay Hill is the only top 10 by any in this quartet on U.S. soil in 2017. Of course, much of that is due to the European schedule played by most. There will be a lot of questions asked about the strength of this group. It is justified, with nobody showing dynamite form since the calendar flipped. It’s a coin toss.
Winner? Molinari is the best putter of the group.
Group 11 – Danny Willett, Russell Knox, Bill Haas, K.T. Kim
This group is a product of world golf ranking being a two-year scale. Willett still hasn’t found his early-2016 form. Knox has been MIA since Hawaii. Kim is happy to be here. That leaves Bill Haas with the nicest draw of the week. He isn’t lighting the world on fire right now, but even he has to see a path to the final 16 right in front of him.
Winner? Haas, by default.
Group 12 – Paul Casey, Charl Schwartzel, Ben An, Joost Luiten
For all the reasons the above group is wide open (nothing good), this group is the opposite (everybody’s good). Nobody is great right now, but Schwartzel and An have knocked on the door of winning this year. Casey and Luiten are making cuts like it’s going out of style. Hard to pinpoint one guy greater than the rest, but this group may have the most tiebreaker scenarios in play come day three.
Winner? An. Why not?
Group 13 – Bubba Watson, Thomas Pieters, Scott Piercy, Jhonattan Vegas
The Pool A player here may be the longest shot. Nobody trusts Watson’s putter and game, which has left the door wide open for the players behind him. Pieters has been a rollercoaster since arriving in North America a month ago. Piercy has cooled off quite a bit. Vegas fought like crazy to make the field to play where he honed his skills in college.
Winner? Vegas. It’s the feel good story.
Group 14 – Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Daniel Berger, Si Woo Kim
Wide open because you could have matches here decided with 14 combined birdies or by whoever makes the least amount of doubles. Kim is in a tailspin right now (failing to cash in nine of the last 10 events where there was a cut), so this is a three-horse race. It’s crazy to think this, but the most conservative guy might win out of the three Americans. Can anybody play safe?!
Winner? Mickelson. It’s a really good draw for Lefty. He should be able to think his way out of this group.
Group 15 – Branden Grace, Brandt Snedeker, William McGirt, Andy Sullivan
Grace hasn’t been ranked this low since the end of 2015. Ditto for Sullivan. That Memorial win for McGirt feels like a long time ago. That leaves Sneds, who has been up and down, but the ups have been good. There is no matchup in this group that feels lopsided, so the cliche is in play: It could be anybody!
Winner? Snedeker rides a hot putter.