Not only do the vagaries of match play make the WGC-Match Play one of the toughest events on the calendar to predict, but with the existing format and having to advance out of your group before making the bracket portion of this tournament, we'd say this is almost as tough to make prediction as an NCAA Tournament bracket. But making WGC-Match Play picks is part of the fun. With March Madness on the mind, we're offering picks from Austin Country Club this week, where most of the world's top players are teeing it up.
Our expert picks this week, just like every week, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from his insights on the range and putting green thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; two of the most respected fantasy golf experts in the industry, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; and our Golf Digest Editors.
One of our biggest takeaways? Avoid Tiger Woods this week. Tiger has never teed it up at the Austin Country Club in the WGC-Match Play, which is a disadvantage he doesn't share with most of the field (there are only 10 others who haven't teed it up here in the past). We know Tiger's focus is always on the four majors—so to us, playing in the WGC-Match Play is likely more born out of not wanting to miss out on world-ranking points up for grabs in the third WGC event of the season. We don't think his motivation for advancing through the match-play bracket will be too high, thus, your money is likely better spent in other places. Read on to see where you should put that money this week.
2019 WGC-Match Play Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Tommy Fleetwood (22-1) — He was a quarterfinalist in this event back in 2015. But, over the last few years, he has evolved into a superstar on the European Tour and it’s only a matter of time before that carries over to the PGA Tour. And, by that I mean this: The only thing he hasn’t done is win on the PGA Tour. In his last two starts, Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass, he finished T-3 and T-5, respectfully. He was incredible last fall in Paris at the Ryder Cup, winning four points in five matches. With a match-play record like that, it would be fitting for him to notch that breakthrough PGA Tour win in the Tour’s lone match-play event, wouldn’t it? He and Francesco Molinari were the MVPs for Europe in that Ryder Cup and they’re both hot heading into Austin.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Justin Rose (18-1) — When you’re dealing with all the world’s top players in the same event, looking for any sort of edge in separating the top end is critical. Going into the week, Rose didn’t stand out above any of the other elites, but after the draw, he drew the best path. A weak group, the weakest quadrant, and comes in with relatively little buzz. Short term, he’s been off from his regular self, however, he does have a win at Torrey Pines already this year, and per FantasyNational.com, rates inside the Top 15 in the field in strokes gained/off-the-tee, strokes gained/approach, strokes gained/around the green and strokes gained/birdies or better over the past 50 rounds. That type of balance is what match-play winners are made of, just avoid the super hot opponent.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Bryson DeChambeau (25-1) — My win pick has to come from the right side of the bracket because it’s the easier draw, and Bryson grades out well in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach over the past 100 rounds. He also fares well on Pete Dye courses, and Bermuda greens are his best surface. That’s a good profile for this event. With his draw, he should emerge from his pod and could grind it out from there.
Golf Digest editors: Jason Day (25-1) — This might be a risky pick, as Jason Day would be on a path to face Dustin Johnson in the Final Four if he were to advance that far. But it's no guarantee DJ won't stumble along the way. We love Jason Day in this format. He's the leader on tour in putting from 10-15 feet—that crucial distance where making putts will dagger your opponent. And he's a top-5 scrambler on the PGA Tour. With his distance, he's a tough out against any player in the world. If he's close to being 100-percent healthy, we like J-Day's chances of being in this until the end.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted five of the season’s 18 events. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix. And Brandon Gdula has three picks of his who have finished runner-up.)
Picks to Win WGC-Match Play Groups (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Francesco Molinari, Group 9 (+138). The reigning Open Champion is the clear “A” player in his pod, which also includes Webb Simpson, Thorbjorn Olesen and Satoshi Kodaira. Simpson has the best WGC-Match Play record in that pod at 8-8-1. Molinari, meanwhile, is 4-11-0. That’s nothing to write home about, but it doesn’t worry me in the least this week. He’s a major champion now. He literally just won a few weeks ago at Bay Hill. At the Ryder Cup, he won ALL five of his matches in Europe’s dominating, 17 ½-10 ½ victory. This is a different, supremely confident Molinari compared to years past.
Mayo: Si-Woo Kim, Group 8 (+500). A quarterfinalist a year ago, Si WOOOO has penchant for Pete Dye courses. It’s worrisome with matchups with Rahm and Kuchar, but we’ve seen Dye specialists continue to produce at this event every year, who else do you explain Bill Haas and Kevin Kisner going on big runs. If tough seeing the South Korean going too far past the group in the most difficult quadrant, but he’s being undervalued for this course and in this format, even against more consistent foes.
Mayo: Phil Mickelson, Group 12 (+350). Yes, it’s the group of death, but Austin Country Club is specially rigged for lefties, much like Riviera and Augusta, by the way. Phil made an Elite Eight run two years, Bubba won last year and escaped his group the year before. Even Brian Harman’s had a moment at Austin Country Club. And, really, Phil’s game is tailored to match play, those double bogeys aren’t going to hurt him as much as normal. Yes, his opposition is tough, but that’s why we’re getting those juicy odds.
Gdula: Brooks Koepka, Group 3 (+100). Koepka’s weight loss is a bit of a concern, but his draw is great and should let him pick up a pod win.
Gdula: Byeong Hun An, Group 11 (+333). An is a great tee-to-green player and could fight his way through a winnable pod as a result, as Oosthuizen and Stanley are losing tons of approach strokes.
Golf Digest Editors: Marc Leishman, Group 6 (+225): Leishman doesn't have the best history at this event, but he's in a group facing players who also don't have the best history in this event. Bryson's a newbie, and Leishman clearly a level above players such as Russell Knox and Kiradech Aphibarnrat. These are pretty good odds for the Aussie, who had gained strokes in every event from October through February. He's one of the best putters on tour, so we like the chances for him to figure out the swing and get it together in Austin.
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the WGC-Match Play (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Ian Poulter (35-1) — Ian Poulter as a sleeper in a match play event? It’s weird just typing that out. But if Poults can bottle up some of that magic from Ryder Cups past, look out. He is as dangerous as they come in match play.
Mayo: Abraham Ancer, Group 10 (+500). — Group 10 can definitely be had by a long shot. Casey coming off a win could be emotionally and physically spent. Cam Smith is playing like trash at the moment. And, unless par is good all week, Charles Howell III might not have the requisite upside to win three matches. That just leaves THE ANCER. One of the better off-the-tee players in the field, coming off an impressive performance at a Pete Dye Sawgrass track against all these same players. And you’re getting five-to-one on your money. Lets do it.
Gdula: Gary Woodland (50-1) — Woodland’s odds are pretty long at 50-1, and that makes him a nice value. He’s 12th in strokes gained/approach and 5th in strokes gained/off the tee over the past 100 rounds, a profile that could get him into winning position.
Gdula: Webb Simpson (50-1) — Simpson has a good shot to advance from his bracket, and that’s a great start to getting to the Elite 8. Simpson is 11th among the bracket in strokes gained/approach over the past 100 rounds and is 10th in strokes gained on Pete Dye courses.
Golf Digest editors:Gary Woodland (50-1) — Gary Woodland is seventh in strokes gained/tee-to-green, and has two runner-ups and six top-10s this season. He boasts a runner-up finish at this event in 2015, and—evidenced by winners in Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day—Austin Country Club can be a bomber’s paradise, putting another feather in Woodland’s cap. As for Woodland’s draw, Justin Rose may be the No. 2 seed, but the Englishman Rose has made it to the Sweet 16 just once in 11 appearances. Throw in Emiliano Grillo’s recent struggles (only one top-25 finish in 2019) and Eddie Pepperell’s match play inexperience, Woodland’s a safe bet to reach the weekend. And don’t be surprised if he makes some noise come Saturday.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jordan Spieth (50-1) — He’s just too inconsistent right now. Maybe it’ll come together this week – it is a home game for him, after all – but he’s in a funk. His best finish this season was a T-35 at Torrey Pines. Since then, he’s finished no better than T45 and this is his first start since a missed cut at The Players. He was playing great at the Riviera, but plummeted 47 spots in the final round to tie for 51st after shooting an 81. When the putter is hot, there’s probably no one better. It just hasn’t been hot for a while.
Mayo: Jon Rahm (16-1) and Matt Kuchar (40-1) — It’s pretty easy, if I’m picking Si WOOOOO, that means these two don’t escape the group.
Gdula: Rory McIlroy (9-1) — It’s obviously nothing against Rory, but he could lose out to Luke List if List gets things rolling. If not, Rory is slated to run into some tough individual matchups after pod play. In this extra volatile format, I think it’s a week to step back and focus on better values, despite Rory’s elite form.
Golf Digest editors: Tiger Woods (22-1) — At first glance, you see Tiger Woods at 22-1—and you might be tempted to bite at that number. But this isn't Tiger's kind of event. We know his focus is peaking for the Masters in a couple weeks. Long, 36-hole days against multiple opponents in a match-play event—when he runs the risk of tiring out before the biggest event of the year? We wouldn't be surprised if it's an early exit for Tiger. We won't be tempted by this number.
2019 WGC-Match Play: Our Favorite Day 1 Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Si-Woo Kim (+225) over Jon Rahm (Sportbet) — Rahm is the “A” player in the pod, while Kim is the “D” player. Rahm reached the championship match in 2017 but didn’t make it out of the group stage last year. He’s an emotional player, which isn’t always the best thing in match play. Kim, the 2017 Players Champion, has quietly been having a decent season. He tied for fourth at Pebble and backed it up with a third-place finish at Riviera. I think he could surprise Rahm in their opening match.
Mayo: Keith Mitchell (+175) over Tony Finau (Bet365) — Really attractive odds for Keith Mitchell, who just
Ben An (+175) over Tommy Fleetwood (Bet365) — Sure, Tommy Fleetwood is playing as well as anybody over the past couple of events. But if you look at the stats, so is Ben An. The precision with his irons should translate nicely to a Pete Dye course, so at these odds, this is a nice bet.
Gdula: Ben An (+175) over Tommy Fleetwood (Bet365) — It’s hard to go against Fleetwood, but An’s ball-striking has been nearly as good as Fleetwood’s. Neither is a super consistent putter, so I like the value on An as an underdog.
Golf Digest Editors: Bubba Watson (-152) over Kevin Na (DraftKings) — The odds aren't great here, but we're willing to lay the heavy number for a sure bet. Kevin Na withdrew last week, and the last we saw him tee it up, he was fighting to break 80 at the Players. Bubba, meanwhile, quietly finished in the top 5 last week at the Valspar Championship (a venue you wouldn't think at all fits his game) and won this event last year. Anything can happen in one match, so we're not saying put your live savings on it, but we'd be pretty confident in Bubba getting a W here against Mr. Na.
(Matchup results last week: Gdula: 1 for 1. (Paul Casey over Jim Furyk); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Jason Kokrak over Kevin Kisner); PGA Tour Caddie, Riccio and GD Editors: 0 for 1.)
(Matchup results for the year: PGA Tour Caddie: 7 for 11; Riccio: 7 for 11; GD Editors: 7 for 12 (and one push); Mayo: 4 for 8 with two pushes; Gdula: 4 for 9 with one push.)
(Top-10 results last week: Riccio: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 6 for 12; PGA Tour Caddie: 4 for 12; GD Editors: 3 for 11; Gdula: 2 for 11; Riccio: 2 for 11)
Mayo: Picking the winners is always important, but lineup construction is more important on DraftKings at the Match Play than any other week, as one player has a direct effect on another. Basically, regardless of who you like, make sure to fill out your team of six with players who won’t play each other in the bracket until the final eight. If you’re serious about winning, maximizing the amount of matches you get from your squad is imperative if you want to actually win a DraftKings contest this week. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this. Last year, around 30 percent of lineups were dead as soon as they were entered.
Brooks Koepka ($10,300); Justin Rose ($10,000); Phil Mickelson ($8,000); Si-Woo Kim ($6,500); Abraham Ancer ($6,400).
GD Editors: As Pat explained, this might be a good week to dabble in DraftKings, as most people don't realize that you can't pick against players who will eventually face off against each other until the Elite Eight. That's why we like getting involved this week. Remember: You get points for holes won and matches won. Those are the most important metrics this week.
Francesco Molinari ($9,300); Bubba Watson ($8,900); Sergio Garcia ($8,500); Matt Kuchar ($8,100); Phil Mickelson ($8,000); Kevin Kisner ($7,000).
About our experts
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist and earned the 2018 FSWA "podcast of the year" award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Genesis Open.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
(Joel Beall contributed to this report)