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21 Mar 2017 by Sam Vickers

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Preview

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The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play will host the world’s top 64 ranked golfers, barring notable absentees Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose. Since 2015, the championship format started with 16 groups of four, with round-robin matches being played and the winners of each group advancing to the knock-out stages. The set-up was altered to maintain the best possible fields, however, judging by the significant absentees above, this edition of the WGC event loses some credibility compared to the others.

Austin Country Club, Texas, plays host for the second year running, and it is described as a great venue for this format. The Pete Dye-designed course plays 7,108 yards, par 71 and offers a great layout for match play, with two contrasting nines making all matches difficult to predict all the way until the end.

  • Of the previous 10 editions, there has only been one multiple winner (Jason Day), highlighting the difficulty of the match play format.
  • However, of all the finalists analysed there have been four multiple players to make the final (Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Hunter Mahan and Geoff Ogilvy), suggesting the format suits certain players and styles more than others.
  • Since the format changed from a 36-hole to an 18-hole final in 2015, the winning margin average has increased to 4.5 holes compared to 3.1 holes, although it’s still early days with this format.

In order to gauge what specific skill sets may favour the match play format, strokes-gained in 'off-the-tee', 'approach-the-green', 'around-the-green', 'putting' and 'tee-to-green' were assessed for each finalist during their respective seasons:

  • When looking at the overall averages, the least number of strokes gained (0.103) was for 'around-the-green', suggesting short game is rarely the deciding factor over the seven individual matches.
  • Strokes gained for 'putting' was the second lowest (0.318), closely followed by 'off-the-tee' shots (0.320).
  • The most significant aspect of the game is 'approach-the green', achieving nearly half a shot per round (0.494). Of all the finalists analysed, it is evident that the approach play amongst the world’s best players is what separates them from their opponents, and perhaps provides them with the significant birdie opportunities that are required during match play.

With the above stats in mind, the top 20 players currently ranked in strokes-gained 'tee-to-green' and 'approach-the-green' were assessed. Of the two categories, a total of 13 players are currently within both classes. We’ve ranked them in terms of their 'tee-to-green' stats, but have included their approach figures also:

Players in italics are not competing at the WGC Match Play.

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, world number one Dustin Johnson leads the way in strokes-gained 'tee-to-green', gaining a staggering 2.44 shots per round over the field, and if his putting gets to the level it has been in the past 12 months, it will take a defiant opponent to beat him.
  • Jordan Speith ranks first in strokes-gained in the 'approach-the-green' category, attaining a staggering 1.36 shots per round over the field, and although his driving rarely overpowers a golf course, he has gained extra yardage this season which has perhaps allowed him the opportunity to be more aggressive with his irons. Furthermore, with his putting ability, he is a prime contender.
  • Other notable names to watch as slight outsiders are Kevin Kisner, Francesco Molinari, Tyrrell Hatton and Webb Simpson, who all gain 0.9 strokes or more per round in the 'approach-the-green' category. If they discover some steady form on the greens this week combined with their long game, they all could go deep into the tournament.
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