Welcome to the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play, y’all!
The annual tournament boasting 64 of the world’s best golfers has a new home at Austin Country Club in Texas. So, if things get weird, it’ll make sense in the backyard of progressive culture and vibrant nightlife. Austin is also the hometown and serves as the headquarters for the new title sponsor. The tournament will be at ACC and sponsored by Dell for at least four years, so what is new to most in this week’s field will soon be as familiar to its association with Harvey Penick and his students, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, all World Golf Hall of Famers.
The club has existed since 1899, but ACC is its third site. It was designed in 1984 by another member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Pete Dye. At just 7,073 yards, routed as a par 35-36=71 and because shot shape is so critical from the tee to smallish greens, it draws comparisons to another Dye fave, Harbour Town Golf Links, host of the annual RBC Heritage. ACC’s nines are reversed for the Match Play, so the side commonly referred to as the lowlands nine will serve as holes 10-18 this week. The front half better resembles the Hill Country for which this region is known. But all vistas are striking, many replete with Dye’s ubiquitous railroad ties drawing distinct lines between the safety of dry land and a watery grave. It’s the kind of risk-reward element that fans should love in this format.
Golf course designer and land mover Rod Whitman collaborated with Dye to build ACC. Whitman was already renovating the course when the PGA TOUR came a-callin’. Fairways are now equipped with new 419 Bermudagrass while, for the third consecutive week, the touring pros will be putting on freshly planted TifEagle Bermuda greens. The course reopened on Nov. 1. This week’s surfaces were over-seeded to maintain control. Whitman also upgraded and added numerous bunkers throughout, but most of the field will be seeing the track for the first time, so those changes will be the only reality they know. Only Jordan Spieth (University of Texas product), Jason Dufner (earlier this year) and Jimmy Walker (as a junior) are known to have stepped foot on the property before this week. Fifteen of the participants are making their first appearance in the tournament.
ACC isn’t the first Dye work to host a WGC event, but you need to go back to the 2003 to find the other. Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course hosted the World Cup that year. While the layouts couldn’t be more dissimilar, wind on both is a major concern. It’s going to be a factor at least through Thursday until a system passes all the way through. A cooling will accompany it before a quick return to seasonal highs in the 70s and 80s. The combination of the elements and the requirements to score well here suggest that ball-striking is the ticket to the weekend. A low ball flight won’t hurt, but distance control is the premium. Tee-to-green specialists who are arriving in good form and with the experience to thrive in the wind are the paper favorites. But, of course, this is match play where anything can happen. It’s cliché, but expect the unexpected.
The round-robin format introduced last year is back, but with an additional twist. If during any of the first three matches golfers are all square after 18 holes, each will be credited with one-half of one point. Wins still count as a full point and losses are still worth zero. Playoffs will only be used to determine any of the 16 to advance from round robin and for any of the matches thereafter. Last year, 12 of the 16 survivors of round robin went 3-0. The other four lost a match in pool play, including semifinalist Jim Furyk, who is one of two to decline a spot in this week’s tournament. He’s still on the mend from having surgery on his left wrist. Henrik Stenson is the other to take a pass. Of the 16 top seeds a year ago, only five advanced, but champion Rory McIlroy was one of them.
NOTE: The order of the top 16 below is a logical determination based on the top four. For example, because Rickie Fowler is slotted fourth (or lowest among the semifinalists), Marc Leishman is ranked fifth (or highest among the quarterfinalists) because they would meet in the quarterfinals. Similarly, No. 8 Adam Scott (lowest among the quarterfinalists) would meet No. 9 Russell Knox (highest of the eight that wouldn’t advance from the round of 16). Golfers numbered 17-64 represent my subjective ranking of those who fail to advance from pool play.
POWER RANKINGS: WGC-DELL MATCH PLAY