Image Credit: WGC - Dell Match Play (Twitter)
The Masters may only be a couple of weeks away but it is time for something a little different on the PGA Tour, as the players head to Austin, Texas for a 5-day Match Play knockout tournament which also doubles as one of the World Golf Championship events. Same drill as in Mexico - strong field, big purse and a prestigious title up for grabs.
The format involves the 64 players being seeded and then split into 16 groups of 4, with a player from each of the four pools in each group. They then play each other in a round-robin format, guaranteeing each player at least 3 matches, with the winner of each group progressing through to the final 16 knockout stage.
If you look at the past winners of this event since it moved to Austin CC a few years back, there's a pattern beginning to emerge. Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson all have distance off the tee as their main weapon, suggesting that if you attack this golf course you can be successful.
An undulating course, it features 4 long par 5s which only the biggest hitters will be able to hit in two (perfect for those three, then), aswell as a number of par 4s which are well under 400 yards and so could be really eaten up by, you guessed it, the most powerful drivers in the field.
However the wind has been a factor in this event for the last couple of years, and when it starts to blow the course can present an entirely different challenge. That probably suggests why the gritty Kevin Kisner was able to get all the way to the final last year.
Only Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott are absent from the Top 64 in the World Rankings, which is the level needed to qualify automatically. The fact that the format has changed in recent years so that all golfers are guaranteed at least 3 matches probably explains why the field is so strong these days, as it allows them to get in some extra tuning-up before Augusta rolls around in April.
The favourites will be the usual suspects - Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, and Justin Rose - but there are plenty of other quality players present and match play is a totally different prospect to stroke play. It is often not just about making plenty of birdies but also avoiding bogeys, which is why there has been a real mix of playing styles progressing to the final stages of the tournament in the last few years, although distance off the tee does seem to be a helpful ingredient.
Of course as an Englishman I am unable to talk about a match play field without mentioning the victorious European Ryder Cup stars! The likes of Molinari, Fleetwood and Garcia will have fond memories of the last time they played this format when they blew away their American opposition, and so don't be surprised if their excellent ball-striking and tidy short games serve them well this week too.
Last year Bubba Watson banished the demons of an awful 2017 season with a win here, setting up what was to be a 3-win year in the process, by thrashing a tired-looking Kevin Kisner. Bubba played well but didn't have much competition after opening with a birdie, as Kisner made four straight bogeys to hand him 6 of the first 7 holes. Whilst he rallied around the halfway mark the damage was already done and a 7 foot birdie putt on the 12th was enough to give Watson a 7&6 win and the title.
It's extremely hard to predict these types of events because there will always be players who find themselves more or less suited to match play, and with the group format only allowing one person to qualify there is no real margin for error. Even a top player can be knocked out early on if they come up against an opponent on a hot streak.
Therefore, we have tended to stay away from many of the European Ryder Cuppers this year because they are either not priced well enough, or have been drawn tough groups that are too close to call.
Length off the tee seems to be key, and that is reflected in our headline selection of Justin Thomas, and anyone who thrives on the one-on-one style should not be taken lightly. Its also worth bearing in mind that there are other things at stake for some players, such as qualification for the Masters or selection for team events, which could affect the way they play too.
For our full list of Betting Tips, follow the link here to find out who we are tipping to take the title!