Recent form is a sought-after variable heading into Augusta. The Masters Momentum series looks back at recent winners on the PGA Tour like the WGC Dell Match Play.
Creating a break from the norm just weeks before The Masters is the much debated World Golf Championship’s (WGC) Dell Technologies Match Play event. Despite being a totally different style of competition, and thus, perhaps, not a perfect indicator, Bubba Watson claimed the 2018 Dell Match Play title, building winning momentum of his own en route to Augusta.
Instead of four days of 18-hole play against a field of competitors, the WGC Match Play consists of five days and 64 golfers playing one on one matches. Over the first three days, competitors are divided into 16 groups of four to compete in round robin matches.
After the round robin play is finished, the top golfer from each group is then placed into the 16-man single elimination style tournament bracket. In order to make it to the final matches, competitors must play twice Saturday and Sunday for a tournament total of seven match-ups over a five-day stretch. This format is either loved or hated for being booked so close to the tradition of Augusta National and so far off from the normal style of play.
Love it or hate it, the 20th WGC Match Play event roared into the Austin Country Club featuring 64 top contenders from around the world of golf. Over the opening three days of pool play, Justin Thomas, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Alex Noren and Charles Howell III cruised past their competition each winning all three of their round robin matches. With seven of the sweet 16 competitors locked in, Matt Kucher, Si Woo Kim, Bubba Watson, Brian Harman, Cameron Smith and Kevin Kisner finished 2-0-1 to advance in their groups as well.
The three remaining groups found two players each tied a 2-1-0 in group play, forcing a sudden-death playoff to determine who would advance. On the first hole of their playoffs, Louis Oosthuizen and Tyrell Hatton advanced by defeating Jason Dufner and Brendan Steele respectively. It took Kyle Stanley an extra hole to get the job done but the Washington native eliminated Valspar winner Paul Casey with a birdie on the par-4 2nd hole.
Friday’s loss to Reed eliminated fellow Ryder Cup competitor Jordan Spieth, who is still lacking the major Masters push this season heading into Augusta. Other notable opening letdowns included the 2017 WGC Match Play champion Dustin Johnson who failed to record a single point losing all three of his round robin matches outright. Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson all fell short of advancing out of their group to play the weekend as well.
In the round of 16, Thomas continued his dominant play by finishing off Kim early 6-up with five holes to play. Elsewhere in the early Saturday match-ups, Noren defeated tournament favorite Reed 5-up with three holes to play while Stanley upset 2017 Masters Champion Garcia 3-up. Rounding out the elite eight were Watson, Smith, Poulter, Kisner and a comeback by Aphibarnrat.
Thomas’ 2-up win over Stanley was the closest contested match in the field of eight Saturday afternoon. Aphibarnrat couldn’t cap off another comeback run against Watson who took their match 5-up and Sweden’s Noren continued his hot streak by defeating Smith 4-up. Poulter’s attempt to secure a Masters spot fell short as Kisner blistered the Englishman 8-up with six holes to play for the second largest margin of victory in Match Play quarterfinals history.
Sunday’s opening round of final four came down to Thomas taking on Watson and the red-hot pairing of Noren and Kisner. After a dominant first four days, Thomas ran out of steam as Watson took their match 3-up with two to play. Noren and Kisner continued to make shot after shot leading to the first playoff of the elimination stage. Kisner ultimately ousted Noren with a birdie on the first playoff hole to solidify his championship match with Watson Sunday afternoon.
Neither third place nor the championship match was all that close. In the consolation pair,ing Noren continued his stellar play by defeating Thomas 5-up. Even more impressively in the championship match,-up Watson seemed invincible as he quickly dispatched Kisner on the 12th hole, 7-up with six to play. Watson won the first five holes of their match outright to claim the championship and all the momentum heading into Augusta.