Scott Shapiro's 2021 WGC-Match Play preview
After Matt Jones' five-stroke victory at the Honda Classic to close the Florida swing, the top golfers in the world will take a one-week respite from stroke play and head to Austin, Texas for the WGC-Match Play.
The event has gone through a number of changes over the years, but since 2016 it has been held at Austin Country Club. Golfers will play in a round robin over the first three days, against the other three players in their “pod,” before the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals start Saturday. The event concludes with the semifinals and finals Sunday.
WGC-Match Play odds
Like TPC Sawgrass, where the Players Championship was held a couple weeks ago, Austin Country Club is a Pete Dye-designed track with Bermuda greens. The par 71, 7,100-yard course can be tackled with a number of different skill sets, evidenced by the list of recent winners at the tournament.
Kevin Kisner proved it was possible to navigate the bracket without distance off the tee, while Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, and Rory McIlroy used their length to gain an advantage.
Given the need to get up and down and make big putts to be successful in match play, I weighted strokes gained on the green and around the green more than I do most weeks. I also put an emphasis on a strong approach game, especially at 125-175 yards from the pin, as well as the ability to score well on par 4s between 400 and 450 yards.
Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Bryson DeChambeau, Players Championship victor Justin Thomas, and the world’s top ranked golfer, Dustin Johnson, sit atop the outright market. Jon Rahm is close behind.
As always, their “A” games will make them tough to beat, but I will dig a bit deeper for my plays in Austin.
Louis Oosthuizen (+4400, +250 to win Group 2)
Group 2 (Dell Technologies Match Play 2021): Thomas, J / Kuchar, M / Oosthuizen, L / Kisner, K
Sun, March 28 2021, 8:00 AM
The veteran South African got a tough draw, with Thomas and a pair of former champions, but he comes into the week in great form.
The 38-year-old has finished in the top 30 in three of his first four PGA tournaments of 2021, including a sixth-place finish at the WGC-Mexico, and has played well at this event, with a record of 17-7 since the format change in 2015.
The @DellMatchPlay has been played at Austin CC four times.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) March 23, 2021
Most times making the Sweet 16 in Austin:
Louis Oosthuizen, 3
Matt Kuchar, 3
Five others (not in field)
* - winner in Austin
The 2010 Open Championship winner will need to be at his best to survive what has been deemed the “Group of Death,” but if he can advance out of his pod, he has the game to thrive in this format.
Oosthuizen ranks third in the field over the last 12 rounds in strokes gained around the green, eighth in strokes gained putting, 10th in birdie or better, and fourth in proximity to the hole from 125 to 150 yards out.
He is a worthwhile gamble, despite the tough draw.
Jason Kokrak (+6600, +280 to win Group 12)
Group 12 (Dell Technologies Match Play 2021): Finau, T / Frittelli, D / Kokrak, J / Zalatoris, W
Sun, March 28 2021, 8:00 AM
Like Oosthuizen, Kokrak will not have things easy early on the 2021 WGC-Match Play, but his price and current form make him worth a wager.
The Canadian has just one win on the PGA Tour, but he is playing some of the best golf of his life. The 6-foot-4 big hitter has always been strong off the tee and solid with his approach game, but over the last five weeks, he has also gained strokes around the green and with his putter.
Kokrak finished in the top 10 in all three of his events in Florida, including a ninth-place effort at the Players Championship, where he struggled around the greens but gained three strokes on the greens and off the tee and more than 4.5 strokes with his irons.
He has a tough group to conquer, and will likely have to battle with DeChambeau in the Round of 16, but I love the way he is playing, so I am willing to take on the risk.