Golf’s version of March Madness takes off this week with in Austin, and some of the world’s best players are eyeing the second World Golf Championship title this season. The most uniquely formatted golf event on tour (the only matchplay event on the PGA Tour) starts Wednesday, March 22nd, and carries through Sunday, March 26th, with group round-robin play from Wednesday to Friday, and a single-elimination bracket play on the weekend.
All 16 groups are relatively even, even with perennial stars Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy highlighting the tournament. The top-5 ranked players (minus Henrik Stenson) in the world are obviously favored to advance through the group stage, but the rest of the tournament is anyone’s guess.
Here are my predictions for each group:
GROUP 1: Dustin Johnson (1), Jimmy Walker (22), Martin Kaymer (46), Webb Simpson (64)
My Pick: Dustin Johnson. Though DJ’s group features three other major championship winners, the World No. 1 has been dominant of late. Walker, Kaymer, and Simpson are tough tests, but DJ’s length and poise has been untouchable of late. Expect Johnson to be at least in the semifinal on Sunday.
GROUP 2: Rory McIlroy (2), Emiliano Grillo (30), Gary Woodland (37), Soren Kjeldsen (68)
My Pick: Rory McIlroy. Rory didn’t have an amazing week at Bay Hill, but has a stellar matchplay record, and has won this event before (2015) and looks healthy again. An upset is not unlikely from Woodland or Grillo, but nonetheless the World No. 2 should be able to make the bracket round if he plays well.
GROUP 3: Jason Day (3), Marc Leishman (32), Lee Westwood (49), Pat Perez (62)
My Pick: Jason Day. Day will try to defend his title this week, and even with last week’s winner Marc Leishman in his group, J-Day should make the weekend relatively easily.
GROUP 4: Hideki Matsuyama (4), Louis Oosthuizen (27), Ross Fisher (53), Jim Furyk (57)
My Pick: Hideki Matsuyama. Even with the sweet swinging Louis Oosthuizen in his group, Hideki has shown he’s not to be messed with. His strength and consistency is unmatched in this group, and he should cruise to a berth on the weekend.
GROUP 5: Jordan Spieth (6), Ryan Moore (36), Yuta Ikeda (41), Hideto Tanihara (60)
My Pick: Jordan Spieth. Ryan Moore certainly has a chance of upsetting Spieth, who doesn’t exactly have a stellar match play record (8-7), but Spieth has been showing signs of his dominant 2015 season, and his putting ability always puts him in a good position.
GROUP 6: Justin Thomas (7), Matthew Fitzpatrick (31), Kevin Na (52), Chris Wood (55)
My Pick: Justin Thomas. Thomas has the stuff to make a run through the weekend, but since his fiery start to the 2017 season, JT hasn’t quite been the same. Matthew Fitzpatrick and Kevin Na certainly have a shot at upsetting the youngster.
GROUP 7: Sergio Garcia (10), Jon Rahm (25), Kevin Chappell (42), Shane Lowry (59)
My Pick: Jon Rahm. The youngster got his first win on tour this year and has been riding high ever since. The young is ushering out the old as the Spaniard takes on his fellow countryman Sergio Garcia.
GROUP 8: Alex Noren (11), Francesco Molinari (29), Bernd Wiesberger (40), Thongchai Jaidee (63)
My Pick: Alex Noren. Noren sports a solid match play record in a group that lacks star power.
GROUP 9: Patrick Reed (12), Brooks Koepka (24), Kevin Kisner (38), Jason Dufner (65)
My Pick: Patrick Reed. America’s Ryder Cup hero is clutch and loves the match play format. Nuff’ said.
GROUP 10: Tyrrell Hatton (14), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (26), Jeunghun Wang (45), Charles Howell III (67)
My Pick: Rafa Cabrera-Bello. The Spaniard is 11-4-1 all time in match play, and doesn’t face much of a challenge in this group.
GROUP 11: Danny Willett (15), Russell Knox (21), Bill Haas (47), K.T. Kim (70)
My Pick: Danny Willet. Willet has a strong matchplay record, and is facing Haas, Knox, and Kim, who have been quiet of late.
GROUP 12: Paul Casey (16), Charl Schwartzel (28), Ben An (51), Joost Luiten (66)
My Pick: Paul Casey. It’s difficult to make an assertive pick in these higher seeded groups, but Casey has had the most notable season thus far out of the group. Expect a close group.
GROUP 13: Bubba Watson (17), Thomas Pieters (34), Scott Piercy (43), Jhonattan Vegas (61)
My Pick: Bubba Watson. Bubba is all over the place, and his match play record isn’t stellar, but his competitors’ records aren’t exactly either. With a little consistency, Bubba will make the weekend.
GROUP 14: Phil Mickelson (18), J.B. Holmes (35), Daniel Berger (39), Si Woo Kim (69)
My Pick: Daniel Berger. Berger is better than his ranking suggests, and the youngster has the fire in his eyes. Berger wants it more than his competitors.
GROUP 15: Branden Grace (19), Brandt Snedeker (23), William McGirt (54), Andy Sullivan (58)
My Pick: Brandt Snedeker. Brandt’s putting will be tough to beat this week. Sneds has been in contention of late and his sturdy play will get him to the weekend.
GROUP 16: Matt Kuchar (20), Tommy Fleetwood (33), Zach Johnson (50), Brendan Steele (56)
My Pick: Matt Kuchar. Kuch’s world golf ranking is much higher than it deserves to be, and shouldn’t have a problem dispatching the rest of this group.