The typical stroke-play format of golf will be taking a brief hiatus on the PGA Tour, as the world’s top 64 players congregate in Austin for the first World Golf Championship of the season.
As is the standard with WGC events, the field will be overwhelmingly strong and we should see some excellent contests in this match play format.
Billy Horschel will be looking to defend his title and add to his collection of six PGA Tour victories, whilst Scottie Scheffler will be out for revenge having come so close last season.
The Previous Edition
Last year provided a few upsets during the group stages, where both Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas were eliminated by Robert MacIntyre and Matt Kuchar respectively.
Jon Rahm and Horschel progressed through their groupings and so did Tommy Fleetwood, at the expense of Bryson DeChambeau, whilst Scheffler battled his way through too.
Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Mackenzie Hughes, Brian Harman, Ian Poulter (no surprises), Dylan Frittelli, Kevin Streelman, Erik van Rooyen, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland completed the line-up for the elimination rounds.
MacIntyre, who had topped a highly competitive group, succumbed at the next hurdle after Perez had produced a riveting 5 & 4 victory.
Garcia was made to grind his way through but prevailed after a 2 & 1 victory against Hughes, whilst Horschel, Fleetwood, Kuchar, Harman, Rahm and Scheffler made it to the quarter-finals.
With only four places to play for, the quarters produced an excellent standard of golf that saw narrow victories away from Perez, who comfortably bested Garcia 4 & 3.
Horschel needed a playoff hole to end Fleetwood’s week, whilst both Kuchar and Scheffler progressed as underdogs.
Perez’s spirited run finally came to an end at the hands of Horschel, whilst Scheffler edged out Kuchar 2 & 1 to book his place in the final.
Both the third-place playoff and final finished 2 & 1, as Kuchar secured victory in the consolation match whilst Horschel edged out Scheffler to pick up his sixth PGA Tour title.
Austin Country Club boasts a par of 71 and measures 7,108 yards from the tips, although that yardage is due to alter prior to the official start of the tournament.
This design from Pete Dye induces entertainment at every stage and could have easily been crafted with the sole intention of hosting the match play format.
What’s remarkable about this layout is the different winners it has produced. From the big-hitting Johnson and Watson to the short-game masters such as Kevin Kisner.
Austin CC is believed to be the oldest club within the state of Texas and its course features two differing nines.
The front is dominated by the Texas hill country whilst the latter nine, where the pressure will be cranked intensely, provides a beautiful scenic backdrop as the matches come down the stretch.
As is the standard with World Golf Championship events, the field is particularly strong with the majority of the world’s top 64 making their way to Texas.
The 64-strong field will be split into 16 groups of four, where they will all play each other once to determine who will progress to the first round of knockouts.
From there, it will be a straight knockout format where losing will result in an early plane ticket home.
The eventual winner will have to triumph in four knockout matches if they are to be crowned champion – losing in the group stages doesn’t necessarily mean elimination.
DeChambeau will be back in action – after missing out on iconic competitions such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship – and he only lives three hours from the venue, which will be ideal for the American.
Johnson was the last world no.1 to win this event and that took place in 2017, where he was required to beat current no. 1 Jon Rahm in the final.
Jason Day and Rory McIlroy have previously championed this competition, and they were ranked second and first in the world during their victories.
However, the last three rankings of the winners has been 32-48-35, which should indicate that the sweet taste of victory is not exclusive to those who dominate the world rankings.
Unsurprisingly, Tiger Woods is the only player to have defended this title (2003, 2004) but there have been alternative players who have come close.
Paul Casey came agonizingly near to securing his maiden WGC after he finished runner-up in both 2009 and the following year.
The top five players in the OWGR will all be present in Austin and 10 players will be making their Match Play debuts.
These include Tom Hoge, Sepp Straka and Lucas Herbert – Sam Burns was scheduled to play, but he has decided to rest this week with a busy schedule looming.
McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Cameron Smith, Harris English and Phil Mickelson are the other five players who had qualified for the event but will not be featuring.