If you’re like us, this is one of your favorite weeks of the golf calendar. In the midst of NCAA March Madness, golf offers its own version of bracket breakdowns and vagaries. Plus, it’s a rare treat to watch the world’s best players compete in match play, so we’re buckled in.
Of course, this is bound to be a wild week. Just like the basketball tournaments, upsets are aplenty at the WGC-Match Play. In the last edition (2019), only five of the 16 top seeds advanced to the Round of 16—and that’s a historical trend. Per Justin Ray of the 15th club, only 36 percent of top seeds have won their group since the event went to Austin Country Club. Like we said, expect the vagaries.
Thankfully, you’ve landed on the best column with experts’ picks advice in golf. Like each week, we have analysis from an anonymous tour caddie reporting from the WGC-Match Play; three of the best data scientists in the industry (Pat Mayo of Mayo Media Network/DraftKings; Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel and Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com); plus expert handicapper Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports to help us make our picks.
WGC-Match Play 2021 expert picks: Best Bet to Win Their Group (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Matt Fitzpatrick (+230) — I wouldn’t want to face this kid’s putter in match play. He’ll have to outperform Spieth—but even Spieth has shown to be shaky on the short ones. At these odds, I think you have to take the value.
Mayo: Erik Van Rooyen (+400) — I’m not in love with EVR’s prospects generally, but this is a perfect group to win at long odds. Daniel Berger has a rib injury and is gutting it out, while Harris English and Brendon Todd are only there based on their current ranking via past performance. There aren’t signs that a turnaround is coming.
Gdula: Bryson DeChambeau (+110) — DeChambeau has a lot going for him: His driving distance being one of them. In addition, when comparing his adjusted strokes-gained data from the past year to the rest of his group, he has the second-biggest advantage in the field. The odds are short, but he seems like the biggest lock to win his group.
Gehman: Jason Kokrak (+260) — Kokrak has been on an absolute heater the last few weeks, racking up top 10s at some of the deepest fields in golf. He enters with three consecutive top 10s including the Players Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC Workday Championship. He offers plenty of upside to win a group that contains some question marks. Will Zalatoris and Dylan Frittelli will be making their match play debuts while Tony Finau has failed to make it out of group play in either of his two starts.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Dustin Johnson (-120) — Call it square, but I’m trusting the data. DJ has by far the easiest path to advancing out of his group. Kevin Na, Robert McIntyre and Adam Long are all in the bottom 10 of my custom FantasyNational.com model this week—which is heavily weighing birdies-or-better gained and SG/approach over the past 36 weeks. You’re paying up for DJ, but I’d expect you to return a profit.
Powers, Golf Digest: Cameron Smith (+230) — If you like Lanto Griffin’s value in this group, I won’t argue with you. Ultimately, it’s between him and Cameron Smith, as crazy as that sounds. Rory McIlroy is obviously pretty broken right now, so to me there is zero reason to bet him in this format. And the same goes for Ian Poulter, who has lost strokes on approach in seven (!) straight starts. No amount of match-play magic can fix that. Smith, meanwhile, has gone solo fourth (Riviera), T-11 (WGC at Concession) and T-17 in his last three starts. He’s in form, and he was very solid at the Presidents Cup in December of 2019. I think he goes 3-0-0, 2-0-1 at worst and gets through easily.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jason Kokrak (+260) — Kokrak has been playing some great golf over the last two months. He ranks third in the field this week for opportunities gained over the last two months and 14th for strokes-gained/tee-to-green. This course should play into his hands too with him ranking 17th for total strokes-gained on similar courses.
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WGC-Match Play 2021 expert picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Dustin Johnson (14-1) — In my opinion, this guy should be the favorite over Justin Thomas. That’s the books banking on recency bias. DJ is still the best golfer in the world. To get him at anything above 10-1 odds will be something that I’ll put a plane ticket’s worth of money on every time. He’s going to win this event more than one in every 14 tries.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Tyrrell Hatton (28-1) — Despite the tough, all-Euro group, Hatton seems primed for a deep run in the bracket. His ball-striking has remained top tier—even during his middling run—and among the top-seeded players, has the hottest flat stick when it gets going. His success at Dye tracks over the past year solidifies this pick for me.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Tyrrell Hatton (28-1) — Hatton has one of the best in-group advantages if we look at long-term adjusted data, so I like his chances to get out of the group, and then from there, we know that he can contend with the best golfers in the world statistically.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) — The combination of skill sets for Bryson DeChambeau is terrifying on a weekly basis and even more so in a match-play setting. He will be bombing it past his opponents which is not only intimidating but allows him to see his opponent’s approach shot before he has to hit. That level of information will be critical in match play. Not to mention, he’s an excellent putter who will put a ton of pressure on his opponents to make putts to halve holes. He’s a nightmare in this format.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Bryson DeChambeau (14-1) — The Bryson experience will be epic to watch at Austin Country Club. And he has to be tough to take in match-play formats. I think he’ll wear guys down—and I expect him to be there until the final four. I’m hoping we get a DJ/Bryson match in the semifinals … talk about epic.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Matt Fitzpatrick (40-1) — It’s somewhat comical that Fitz has the same odds to win as he did at The Players, where he finished T-9, while Jordan Spieth, who is in his group this week, is 25-1 and favored to win the group. I’m not buying into the whole “this format is perfect for Spieth” narrative. He’s advanced out of the group stage once in five tries in this format, which includes three of his peak years. Fitzpatrick is far more reliable and might be the best putter in the field, and last time I checked, holing putts is critical in match play. The Englishman will get out of this group, and then you’ll be holding on to a nice 40-1 ticket when he’s one of the 16 guys left.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jon Rahm (14-1) — Rahm has gained more shots than any other player in the field over the last two years and ranks second for SG/tee-to-green over the last two months. He also ranks third in total strokes-gained on similar courses and has the sixth best match play record in the field of those that have played more than 10 matches.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel is RED-HOT. Our experts have now predicted four of the past seven winners—after going up 225.30 units last season. As we’ve said, our crew gets hot and tends to stay hot, so don’t miss out on our picks! At The Players, Christopher Powers hit Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1) as did Rick Gehman. That’s each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday three events ago at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. And Brandon Gdula also called Berger’s win at Pebble Beach. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
WGC-Match Play 2021 expert picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (Odds from William Hill)
Caddie: Ryan Palmer (80-1) — I really wanted to take Kiz, but his group will be really difficult. Palmer is better than other players in his range. He’s a better putter than in the past—and he’s so good in the wind, like we should see off Lake Austin this week. If he can defeat Jon Rahm in his group (which I think he can), then this is a ticket you want in your pocket.
Mayo: Jason Day (35-1) — You can get this at a much better number elsewhere. The victor at Austin Country Club in 2016, Day has shown flashes of his incredible upside lately. Generally one of the best putters on the planet, Day was second to Justin Thomas in SG/tee to green at The Players and lost 7.7 strokes/putting. That was the worst putting performance of his career. Expect that to flip back soon. When his putter is rolling well, as we’ve seen, match play is a perfect format for the Aussie.
Gdula: Russell Henley (66-1) — Henley has a pretty soft draw with Marc Leishman and Victor Perez being the two worst golfers in the event over the past year when adjusted for field strength, according to my database. So I’m not going to complicate this one too much. He actually rates out better than the group favorite, Sungjae Im (+150), over the past year, as well. He can match irons with the best of them—a great trait on a Pete Dye design.
Gehman: Lanto Griffin (100-1) — Griffin relies on two skills -- approach and putting. He ranks inside the top 20 on tour in both of those categories and they’ll both come in handy during match play. A true longshot is one that is going to get hot and Griffin possesses the two areas that can do the most damage, if he does indeed “get hot.” Additionally, if he can escape his group, his quadrant position is one of the softest. Of course, Rory McIlroy will have something to say in Group 11 but McIlroy has struggled recently. After that, his biggest threats are Xander Schauffele who is in a tough group and Jon Rahm who he wouldn’t meet until the Elite Eight.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Abraham Ancer (50-1) — Ancer has a favorable-ish draw, getting Viktor Hovland, who’s obviously inexperienced compared to most top seeds in this event. I like his path to the Elite Eight, where he’d most likely face Bryson DeChambeau. Ancer has the moxy to compete with Bryson—I think Ancer’s a sneaky play at these odds with his positive SG/approach numbers and SG/total on Pete Dye courses.
Powers, Golf Digest: Brian Harman (70-1) — Were you aware that Brian Harman has made 18 of his last 19 cuts? Welp, you are now. That’s an incredible stretch, and a sign he’s never out of a round. Harman is a fighter, which is the perfect trait for match play. No one in his group scares me right now (Cantlay, Matsuyama, Ortiz), and Harman is coming off a T-3 at the Players and seems to be just starting to peak.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Robert MacIntyre (125-1) — MacIntyre has a plethora of match play experience from an illustrious amateur career including playing in the Eisenhower Trophy and the Walker Cup. He also reached the final of the Amateur Cup in 2016. He will be a very tough man to beat.
WGC-Match Play 2021 expert picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Rory McIlroy (20-1)— It would be an awful lot to expect for Rory to completely find his game after appearing pretty lost at The Players. This is another Dye design—and Rory doesn’t have the greatest history at Austin Country Club.
Mayo: Justin Thomas (12-1) — Coming off a massive win at The Players, Thomas got what looks like the worst draw of any of the top seeds. Normally, Oosthuizen, Kisner and Kuchar wouldn’t strike fear as a whole, but those are the three most successful players from the past four years the event has been at this course.
Gdula: Paul Casey (25-1) — Casey’s draw isn’t particularly easy, but he’s shorter than Webb Simpson to win the group (+145 vs. +190) and outright (25-1 vs. 30-1). I know Casey likes match-play formats, but Talor Gooch and Mackenzie Hughes can get it going in different ways, so I’m not keen on Casey among the favorites.
Gehman: Justin Thomas (12-1) — This hurts to fade Thomas after cashing in on his Players Championship victory but he’s in the “group of death” for this week’s Match Play. Just to get out of his own group, he has to topple Louis Oosthuizen, Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar. We can argue the recent form of those players but we can’t argue their combined 42-18-5 record since the format changed in 2015. If he survives that, he’s still in a quadrant with the likes of Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay. If he finds a way to win this event, it’ll certainly be well-deserved.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Collin Morikawa (22-1) — Morikawa belongs in the elite range of golfers in the world, but if he wins back-to-back WGCs, we’ll officially have to anoint him the next Tiger. That’s extremely difficult to do, and I just think his vagaries with the putter don’t suit a deep run in the WGC-Match Play. Plus, his group is competitive—with Billy Horschel having revenge on his mind from Concession, and Max Homa has been one of the best players of the past three months. Morikawa will fight just to advance to the Round of 16, let alone win this.
Powers, Golf Digest: Rory McIlroy (20-1) — We should all be fading Rory McIlroy until further notice.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jordan Spieth (25-1) — Spieth started the week as the seventh favorite but he comes way down in my model this week. He ranks just 44th in the field this week for total strokes-gained on similar courses and just 49th for SG/putting on fast Bermuda.
WGC-Match Play 2021 expert picks: First-round Matchups
Caddie: Brian Harman (+115) over Hideki Matsuyama (projected odds for R2) — Harman’s game looked so consistent at TPC Sawgrass, which is a good comparison to Austin Country Club. Hideki, on the other hand, missed the cut and has been inconsistent for a long time now. This line should be in this range, and you should take it.
Mayo: Erik Van Rooyen (+150) over Daniel Berger (DraftKings) — I explained why I like EVR above. There’s a good chance Berger is just showing up for the paycheck, and Van Rooyen’s game has flashed in the past couple of months.
Gdula: Kevin Kisner (+130) over Louis Oosthuizen (FanDuel) — We know Kisner gets a match-play bump, but he has actually been about as good as Oosthuizen over the past year when adjusting for field strength. We’re getting him at plus odds, too.
Gehman: Max Homa (-109) over Billy Horschel (DraftKings, 2-way) — We don’t have to look far to see how Homa plays in sudden death with tons of pressure -- cue Riviera a few weeks ago. Homa rebounds from missing a three foot putt for win and then pulls off a hero shot from a tree trunk to extend the playoff with Tony Finau, eventually winning on the next hole. That grinder’s mentality and the ability to pick your spots is the intangible skill set that will be critical this week in Austin.
Hennessey: Jason Kokrak (+115) over Will Zalatoris (William Hill) — It’s tough fading the talented youngster, but Kokrak is on an absolute tear leading into this with three consecutive top-10 finishes. What I love is that he has gained strokes on approach and putting in two of his last three events. Kokrak’s putting appears to be vastly improved in the past six months, and that’s still a weakness for Zalatoris—so I’ll go with the veteran in this matchup at plus-odds.
Powers: Scottie Scheffler (+110) over Jason Day (DraftKings, 3-way) — I like Scheffler to come out of this group, and the first step to doing that is to go 1-0. Plus money to do just that over Day is stealing, in my opinion. Day can’t seem to match the irons and the putter right now, while Scheffler has been consistently striking it well and contending regularly as a result.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Antoine Rozner (+130) over Si Woo Kim (projected odds for R3) — Si Woo has an awful match-play record at big events, so look to fade him when Day 3 odds come out (I project them to be around this number). As per @TapItIn3, Si Woo has a mere 27.27 percent win rate. He also has the second-worst putting stats in the field on fast, Bermuda greens, losing 0.5 strokes per round. Rozner on the other hand is a fierce match-play player, who won all four of his matches at the 2016 Palmer Cup.
Matchup results from the Honda Classic: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Brendan Steele (-112) over Rickie Fowler); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Joaquin Niemann (-115) over Lee Westwood); Gdula: 1 for 1 (Wyndham Clark (-118) over K.H. Lee); Powers: 1 for 1 (Adam Scott (-137) over Lee Westwood); Caddie: pushed (Poulter over Wallace); Gehman, Alldrick: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Alldrick: 14-8-1 (up 4.67 units); Hennessey: 12-9-1 (up 1.98 units); Mayo: 11-10-1 (up 0.42 units); Gdula: 12-11-0 (down 0.22 units); Powers: 9-10-4 (down 1.81 units); Gehman: 7-14-2 (down 6.39 units); Caddie: 5-15-3 (down 9.08 units).
WGC-Match Play 2021 expert picks: One and Done pick
Gehman: Patrick Reed — This is easily the most difficult event to handicap, but with a $1,820,000 winner’s share, it’s one of the most important to get right. I’m focusing my attention on a “second-tier stud” who can offer winning upside without having to burn one of the top five players in the field. For me, that’s Patrick Reed who already has two WGC titles on his resume. He’s certainly no stranger to Match Play, boasting a 9-6-2 record in this event and putting the United States team on his back in countless international matches.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Joel Dahmen; U.S. Open: Jon Rahm; Corales: Denny McCarthy. Sanderson: Sebastian Munoz. Shriners: Matthew Wolff. CJ Cup: Xander Schauffele. Zozo: Bubba Watson. Bermuda: Rasmus Hojgaard. Houston: Lanto Griffin. Masters: Rory McIlroy. RSM: Webb Simpson. Sentry TOC: Patrick Reed. Sony: Abraham Ancer. AMEX: Patrick Cantlay. Torrey: Jon Rahm. Waste Management: Webb Simpson. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis Invitational: Rory McIlroy. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. The Players: Bryson DeChambeau; Honda Classic: Sungjae Im.
Hennessey: Patrick Reed — If you still have Reed in one-and-done, match play feels like a good event to use him. As Shane Ryan pointed out in our “Be Right” podcast this week, Reed’s lack of success at the WGC-Match Play doesn’t quite make sense, and I think he should make a deep run.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Phil Mickelson; U.S. Open: Hideki Matsuyama; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Harris English. CJ Cup: Kevin Na. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Doc Redman. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Tyrrell Hatton. RSM: Brian Harman. Sentry TOC: Justin Thomas. Sony: Ryan Palmer. AMEX: Scottie Scheffler. Torrey: Sungjae Im. Waste Management: Daniel Berger. AT&T Pebble Beach: Francesco Molinari. Genesis Invitational: Tony Finau. WGC-Workday: Xander Schauffele. The Players: Jordan Spieth. Honda Classic: Adam Scott.
Powers: Matt Fitzpatrick — Feels like such a good format for him, and he’s scorching hot. As long as he doesn’t get Spieth’d, he should come out of his group and then you have to love his chances once knockout play begins.
Previous weeks: Safeway Open: Brendan Steele; U.S. Open: Louis Oosthuizen; Corales: Adam Long. Sanderson: Sam Burns. Shriners: Jason Kokrak. CJ Cup: Daniel Berger. Zozo: Joaquin Niemann. Bermuda: Denny McCarthy. Houston: Russell Henley. Masters: Bubba Watson. RSM: Brian Harman. Mayakoba: Corey Conners. Sentry TOC: Harris English. Sony: Zach Johnson. AMEX: Matthew Wolff. Torrey: Tony Finau. Waste Management: Sungjae Im. AT&T Pebble Beach: Jason Day. Genesis: Hideki Matsuyama. WGC-Workday: Tyrrell Hatton. The Players: Tommy Fleetwood. Honda Classic: Adam Scott.
By The Numbers:
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
17 — The number of wins by Louis Oosthuizen since 2015, the most of any player since the format changed that year.
48 —The seed of Kevin Kisner, out of 64, for his victory in 2019. That’s the highest seed of any winner since Geoff Ogilvy in 2006 (52).
5 — The number of “Top Seeds”, out of 16, to win their group and advance to the elimination stage in 2019.
2,080 — The number of days since Keegan Bradley has gained strokes putting in three consecutive events, dating back to July 2015. He enters this week with two in a row.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing 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.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.