The PGA Tour is a foreigner's game right now, with a non-American winning four straight events after USA players got off to a strong start to the season.
Last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Bay Hill, the final event of the Florida Swing, Australian Jason Day shot a final-round 2-under 70 to win by one over Kevin Chappell. Day got up-and-down twice over his final five holes, including on No. 18. From a greenside bunker about 100 yards from the hole, Day blasted out to within four feet and drained the par putt to go wire-to-wire.
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"My iron play was very, very poor over the weekend but one thing that helped a lot was my short game," said Day, who finished the week 17-under and moved to No. 2 in the world.
Day had been receiving text messages from his idol, Tiger Woods, all weekend. He said that helped his game. Day's victory was his eighth career on the PGA Tour and fifth in his past 12 starts going back to the Canadian Open last summer the week after the British Open. It also meant for the first time since 1993 the Florida Swing was won completely by former major champions: Aussie Adam Scott won two events on the swing and South African Charl Schwartzel the other.
Chappell was a tough-luck loser, making his only final-round bogey of the back nine on the last hole and shooting 69. Henrik Stenson finished tied for third. Since Jan. 1, 2015, he has finished in the top three in nine of 30 worldwide starts but hasn't won. The Swede was my pick to win last week. Thus, I did get him at -105 for a Top 10 as well as -135 as the top continental European. Also hit on a Top 10 for Justin Rose (T9), who also was my choice as top Englishman; he tied there with Paul Casey. I took a few longer-shot bets on Keegan Bradley as he usually plays well at Bay Hill but he finished T36. Head-to-head, I hit on Scott (even money) over Rory McIlroy (-130), and Casey (-115) over Brandt Snedeker (-115). Decent results.
So now this week the Tour heads to Austin, Texas, for the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play. This tournament has moved weeks and courses a handful of times over the years and both are new this year. Prior to this year, it had been held at five different courses. The Match Play will stay in the last week of March with Dell as its sponsor through 2019.
It's one of four WGC events, which has a limited field and expanded purse. This is the only PGA Tour event that uses match play (Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup do but those are team events). It also starts on Wednesday, not the usual Thursday.
There are four brackets with players seeded by their world ranking. Players face each of the other three members in their mini-group during pool play, with winners earning a point and ties a worth a half point for each participant. The player with the most points from each group will advance to single-elimination knockout play this weekend (36 holes on Saturday and Sunday -- more if matches are all square after 18). That format was new last year; it used to be simply the knockout round to begin with.
The top four seeds are No. 1 Jordan Spieth, who of course went to the University of Texas in Austin, No. 2 Day, No. 3 McIlroy and No. 4 Bubba Watson. Spieth could be looking at a nice matchup vs. No. 8 Dustin Johnson to win his bracket. Day has Rose in his bracket. Day also could take over No. 1 in the world rankings depending on what he and Spieth do here. McIlroy has Scott in his bracket and Watson has Rickie Fowler. McIlroy is the defending champion. He beat American Gary Woodland 4 and 2 in the 2015 final. McIlroy never trailed and the match was only all square for the first three holes. McIlroy became the first No. 1 seed since Tiger in 2008 to win this.
All but two of the world's Top 50 are set to play. Stenson is taking the week off and Jim Furyk remains out following wrist surgery. Stenson won this in 2007. Tiger holds the record with three wins in the Match Play but remains out. One guy also missing: worldwide match play stud Ian Poulter. He won here in 2010 but isn't eligible this year.
Golf Odds: WGC-Match Play Favorites
McIlroy is the +1000 favorite . In his four-man group are No. 64 Thorbjorn Olesen, No. 46 Smylie Kaufman and No. 26 Kevin Na. McIlroy is -225 to beat Olesen on Wednesday. He is -143 to win that group.
Day, the 2014 winner, is +1100. He's in a group with No. 23 Casey, No. 36 Thongchai Jaidee and No. 62 Graeme McDowell. Day is -120 for that group.
Scott and Spieth (both +1200) round out the favorites. Spieth is with No. 31 Justin Thomas, No. 39 Victor Dubuisson and No. 51 Jamie Donald and is -165 for that group. Scott is with No. 30 Bill Haas, No. 41 Chris Wood and No. 55 Thomas Pieters and Scott is -110 there.
Golf Odds: WGC-Match Play Picks
If I'm being honest, it's almost impossible to handicap this tournament. Your smarter bets aren't going to be on who wins, but simply betting individual matches and group winners. Here are a few group winning props I like: Fowler (even money) in Group 5, Johnson (+138) in Group 8, Phil Mickelson (+188) in Group 9, Hideki Matsuyama (+130) in Group 12 and Louis Oosthuizen (+150) in Group 16.
I actually like McDowell at +160 over Day (-200) for their opening match on Wednesday. Also go Sergio Garcia (-200) over Lee Westwood (+160), Mickelson (-174) over Matthew Fitzpatrick (+135), Haas (-170) over Wood (+130) and Shane Lowry (+125) over Martin Kaymer (-165). I expect all the top seeds to win Wednesday other than Day.
As for a winner? The average seeding has been 18.5 of the previous 17 winners (as in No. 1-64). I'm going with No. 23 Casey at +3000 to win. He finished T5 last year, losing to McIlroy in 22 holes after winning his first four matches. Casey is +800 to be the top European finisher. For top American, I'll go Johnson at +1100.
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