Career records show Jason Day is the current king of match play -- but it's close
This week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play is one of the most fun, but unpredictable events of the PGA Tour season. Thanks to Adam Sarson, though, we at least have the complete match-play records of all 64 players in the field to help with our educated guesses. That includes their record in this event as well as in singles at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup and their records in other events like the Volvo World Match Play on the European Tour. So who are the best golfers in this format?
Three players, Anirban Lahiri, Marc Warren and Tommy Fleetwood, actually have perfect records (Watch out for Anirban Lahiri!). But since they've combined to win a total of five matches, we're not going to count them (OK, maybe don't watch out for Anirban Lahiri).
Of players with at least 10 matches played, Jason Day, leads the way with a 79 winning percentage. The bulk of Day's 15-4 record comes from his 14-3 record in the WGC Match Play, which he won last year. Day is 1-1 in President Cup singles play.
Right behind Day is another former WGC Match Play champ, Matt Kuchar, at 69 percent. Kuchar, a former U.S. Amateur winner as well, is 17-4 in the event, but his overall record is brought down by a 1-4 mark in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup singles.
Graeme McDowell is third on the list at 68 percent. McDowell has a 3-1 Ryder Cup singles record, but has actually done most of his match play damage at the Volvo World Match Play, where he's gone 18-5. Surprisingly, he's just 9-8 in the annual WGC event.
Hunter Mahan (66 percent) is next on the list followed by some familiar European Tour Ryder Cup names: Ian Poulter (64 percent), Rory McIlroy (63 percent), Victor Dubuisson (58 percent), Martin Kaymer (55 percent), Paul Casey (55 percent), Henrik Stenson (52 percent) and Sergio Garcia (52 percent).
Thongchai Jaidee (57 percent), Rickie Fowler (54 percent) and Jim Furyk (51 percent) are the only other players with at least 10 matchest that have a winning percentage higher than 50. In other words, it's tough to have a great match-play record as a pro, which is why we've seen Tiger Woods win this event three times, but also lose to players like Nick O'Hern (twice!) and Peter O'Malley.
Speaking of Woods, his 45-15-2 record would give him the second-highest winning percentage (73) behind Day. With three U.S. Amateur titles and three U.S. Junior titles, it's tough to argue Woods isn't the best ever in match play, but his low world ranking has him out of this week's field. Phil Mickelson and his modest 23-21-3 record qualified for the event, but has withdrawn for personal reasons.
So who isn't particularly good in match play? Two members of the victorious 2014 European Ryder Cup team, Stephen Gallacher and Jamie Donaldson, have the worst records of anyone with 10-plus matches. Gallacher is a near-impossible 1-10, while Donaldson is 2-7-2. Of course, one of those two wins for Donaldson came in his Sunday singles match against Keegan Bradley to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe. Clutch!
Notable U.S. players with poor records include Dustin Johnson (4-7), Bill Haas (1-6) and Bradley (1-6). Not so clutch.
What does it all mean for this week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play? It's tough to say. There will be a new group-play format that will feed into the bracket and the tournament will be played at Harding Park for the first time after eight years in Arizona.
Online bookmaker Bovada lists McIlroy and Masters champ Jordan Spieth (3-3 in match play as a pro) as the co-favorites (9/1). Sarson's numbers say Day (14/1) is the better pick, but there's still a better chance of him losing to Anirban Lahiri than repeating as champ.