I was right to not back one Australian at last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. That was defending champion Jason Day, who hasn't had a great season while battling an illness I didn't like Day to contend, and he didn't, finishing T23 at 2 under.
I honestly didn't much consider another Aussie at Arnie's tournament, but Marc Leishman, a guy I do usually pick to win an event or two each year because the talent is there, got his second career Tour win. He entered the final round three shots out of the lead but seized it with an epic 51-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th on Sunday. Leishman, one of the Tour's top-rated putters, then got up-and-down on the final two holes to finish at 11-under 277 and win by a shot over Americans Charley Hoffman and Kevin Kisner - they both shot final-round 73s as the third-round co-leaders. Kisner and Hoffman started the final round at 11 under par.
The win comes with a ton of benefits for Leishman, including a three-year PGA Tour exemption (most tournaments are only two years) and a spot at Augusta. He had entered last week at No. 62 in the world rankings, and anyone in the Top 50 following this week's World Golf Championships-Match Play earns a spot at the Masters. Leishman had to pull out of the Masters in 2015 because his wife got gravely ill the week before and had to be put in medically-induced coma. She wasn't given a good chance to live but is healthy now and the couple's third child is due in July.
Leishman's first win was the 2012 Travelers Championship, and neither his wife nor two young boys were on hand for that one. They were Sunday. Incidentally, if you don't think golf prize money is out of control, Leishman won $1,566,000 on Sunday -- just $295,857 less than what Palmer won in his PGA Tour career. The victory also means it's likely that Leishman will play in the Presidents Cup later this year.
I went with a prop of Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler at +285 vs. the field last week (-425). I hit on McIlroy for a Top 10 at -175 even though he was flirting with the cut line at 4 over par for his first 20 holes. He would finish T4 at 9 under. Stenson hugely disappointed with a missed cut and Fowler was T12.
This week the PGA Tour moves to Austin Country Club in Texas for the WGC-Match Play, a 64-player NCAA tournament bracket style event. This event was moved two weeks before the Masters and to Austin last year. Jason Day won the tournament for a second time, beating McIlroy in the semifinals and Louis Oosthuizen 5&4 in the final. Day also won in 2014 in Arizona. Only Tiger Woods has won the Match Play three times.
Theoretically, the world's Top 64 are supposed to play but Stenson, Adam Scott, Fowler, Justin Rose and Adam Hadwin all passed for personal reasons. Some guys just don't like match play; others simply didn't want to play three weeks in a row heading to Augusta. That's also why some skipped Palmer's tournament. Those guys passing allowed players ranked Nos. 64-69 to get in.
This is not single elimination right out of the gate as it used to be; the Tour changed that because many of the stars were losing in the first round. There are four pools like in the NCAA Tournament and then four four-man groups in each pool. Each player plays round-robin against one another in the group from Wednesday-Friday, and the player with the most points (one for a win, half-point for a tie) moves on. There are no sudden-death holes in the round-robin format except if there's a tie for first in the group. There is sudden-death and single elimination in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals (Saturday) and the semifinals and finals (Sunday). The longest match in event history is 26 holes.
Nothing beats betting on the four majors, in my opinion, but this in a way is the most bet-friendly tournament on the schedule in terms of options, daily head-to-head, etc. What's great about match play is for once guys are playing each other and not the course. You really do have to pay attention to potential opponents when picking a winner and their match play background.
Golf Odds: WGC-Match Play Favorites
McIlroy is the +650 favorite at Bovada . He won this event in 2015 in San Francisco, beating Gary Woodland in the final. Last year, he lost in the semis 1-up to Day and then in the third-place match to Rafa Cabrera-Bello 3&2. McIlroy is the No. 2 seed and in a group with Emiliano Grillo (30), Woodland (37) and Soren Kjeldsen (68).
Dustin Johnson is +900. The world No. 1 is trying become the first man to win three consecutive starts since McIlroy in 2014. He won the WGC event in Mexico earlier this month and no player has won back-to-back WGCs since Tiger in 2013. Johnson is grouped with Jimmy Walker (18), Martin Kaymer (41) and Webb Simpson (58). That seems tough. Last year, Johnson was ousted in the quarters by Oosthuizen.
Jordan Spieth (+1000), who knows this course well from his University of Texas days, Day (+1400) and Hideki Matsuyama (+2000) round out the favorites. Day would face McIlroy in the semifinals if the field went chalk. The Aussie also might see Phil Mickelson in the Round of 16. Matsuyama is in a tough group with Oosthuizen (23) and Jim Furyk (51).
Golf Odds: WGC-Match Play Picks
There's no time to go into every match scheduled for Wednesday or each potential group winner. However, some I like for the latter are McIlroy at -140 (Group 2), Oosthuizen at +220 (Group 4), Sergio Garcia at +185 (Group 7), match play veteran Lee Westwood at +350 to win Group 3 over Day (+130), J.B. Holmes at +225 over Mickelson (+175) in Group 14, and Matt Kuchar at +220 in Group 16. Kuchar joins Day and McIlroy as the only former winners of this event in the field.
My value pick to win is Paul Casey, who is 20-12-1 overall in this tournament. He's +3000 for the tournament and +180 to win a fairly easy Group 12. Casey could have to face Spieth in the Round of 16.
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