American sports fans have spent the last few weeks filling out their brackets in anticipation of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. Golf fans have their own chance to pour over brackets, seedings and potential matchups here with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Unlike March Madness, the Match Play is no longer a straight knockout tournament. Instead, the field is split into groups of four for the first round. The winners of the 16 groups then progress to the knockout stages of the event.
The WGC Match Play is relatively new to the schedule, it was first played in 1999. The host course of the inaugural tournament was La Costa in California, and it has been played at The Gallery in California, Dove Mountain and TPC Harding in Arizona, the Metropolitan in Melbourne and the current host, Austin Country Club in Texas, since 2016.
|Austin Country Club||Austin, Texas||7,108 yards||$10,500,000|
WGC Match Play Recent Winners
|2021||Billy Horschel||Scottie Scheffler||2 & 1||Austin Country Club|
|2020||Abandoned||-||-||Austin Country Club|
|2019||Kevin Kisner||Matt Kuchar||3 & 2||Austin Country Club|
|2018||Bubba Watson||Kevin Kisner||7 & 6||Austin Country Club|
|2017||Dustin Johnson||Jon Rahm||1 Up||Austin Country Club|
|2016||Jason Day||Louis Oosthuizen||5 & 4||Austin Country Club|
|2015||Rory McIlroy||Gary Woodland||4 & 2||TPC Harding Park|
|2014||Jason Day||Beat Victor Dubisson||1 Up (23 Holes)||Dove Mountain|
|2013||Matt Kuchar||Hunter Mahan||2 & 1||Dove Mountain|
|2012||Hunter Mahan||Rory McIlroy||2 & 1||Dove Mountain|
Austin Country Club
The WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay is a tournament that has led a nomadic life but it has found a very good home in Austin Country Club. The Matchplay has been held at the oldest golf course in Texas since 2016 and it has certainly provided the sort of swings in momentum and drama that is demanded of a course hosting this combative type of golf.
Although the Matchplay is all about one player taking on another, caddies have an important role to play. Austin Country Club is a very hilly course with considerable changes in elevation requiring astute clubbing and shot selection. Caddies will also have an important role to play in terms of strategy as the tees can be moved about, changing the official yardage of 7,108 quite considerably and there are several risk/reward holes dotted throughout the layout.
The other major noteworthy thing about Austin Country Club is that the character of the front and back nine is very different. The front nine is much more like the typical sort of course found throughout Texas and much of the south-west of the USA. The back nine feels more polished and much more like a Pete Dye design with a fair amount of danger guarding the greens but it’s more generous off the tee.
About the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play
The WGC Match Play has had several sponsors over the years, but the World Golf Championship tournament has been called the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play since March 2016. The Austin Country Club in Texas has hosted the tournament for the last few years, although it has had a number of host venues since its inception.
The WGC Match Play has been one of the most unpredictable events on the golfing calendar since the first edition at La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California in 1999. The tournament is certainly one of the best non-majors of the year and the fact it is a match play event gives it something of a special feel.
The World Golf Championships are made up of four annual events and were first held in 1999, although the fourth event, the HSBC Champions, wasn’t granted WGC status until 2009. Along with the WGC Match Play and the HSBC Champions, we also have the Mexico Championship and the FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The other three tournaments, like most events on the golfing calendar, are stroke play, with the WGC Match Play now the most important match play event anywhere in the world. With great prestige and prize money similar to a major, the top players are attracted to this tournament and a stellar field is guaranteed.
Format and Eligibility
In common with all of the WGC events, only the very best players in the world are eligible for this tournament. Criteria vary among the four but for the Match Play you have to be ranked in the top 64 of the Official World Golf Rankings 10 days before the tournament. If any of the world’s best 64 can’t make it, the next highest ranked player will take part.
There are 16 groups of four with a seeding system used to make these of broadly similar quality, based on the rankings. From Wednesday to Friday the four play each other in an 18-hole match play format. Winning a match earns a point, with half for a tie and only the top player from each group qualifies, with a sudden death play-off used to separate any golfers tied at the top.
From the last 16 onwards players again compete over 18 holes of match play but this time in a straight knockout format. The last 16 ties and quarters are played on Saturday with Sunday seeing the semis and final (plus the always-pointless third-place play-off).
America’s Dominance on Home Soil
Over the years, there have been winners from only four different countries, with those being America, Northern Ireland, Sweden and Australia. The first event, which was held in California in 1999, was won by Jeff Maggert, as the Missouri man beat fellow American Andrew Magee in a thrilling inaugural final.
The only non-Americans to have won this event are Darren Clarke, Geoff Ogilvy (twice), Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Jason Day (twice) and Rory McIlroy. Since the event started in 1999, we have seen 10 different players from the States win the WGC Match Play. The US stars dominated the early years, winning six of the opening seven and have also done very well of late, winning three in a row prior to the cancellation of the 2020 event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Whilst that table shows how well US players have done, in truth their dominance goes even further when we consider not just champions but final appearances. There have been nine all-USA finals and, as of 2020, only six that didn’t feature at least one player from the States.
Tiger’s Impact on WGC Match Play
Tiger Woods is without doubt one of the best golfers of all time and arguably the most popular player to have ever lived, despite his off-course misdemeanours. Woods has had a huge impact on a number of golf tournaments since turning professional way back in 1996 and, although not the most prestigious of events, the WGC Match Play has played an important role for Tiger over the years.
Only three players have won this event on multiple occasions, with Woods being one of them. The American’s first victory was a 2 & 1 triumph over David Toms in La Costa back in 2003. Woods went on to win it a year later, and then again in 2008, bagging $1,350,000 in prize money in Arizona. The now 44-year-old is the only player to have won it three times. He has also recorded the most consecutive match wins in this competition, winning an incredible 13 in a row from 2003 to 2005.
Despite Woods’ unrivalled success, the WGC Match Play has not always been kind to the Californian. Nick O’Hern caused an upset on two occasions against Tiger, in 2005 in California and then again two years later in Arizona. Also, Darren Clarke outplayed Tiger in 2000, with the Ulsterman beating Woods 4 & 3 in a 36-hole match, becoming the first non-US player to win a WGC event in the process.