WGC Match Play betting guide: 9 picks our expert loves
Welcome to our weekly PGA Tour gambling-tips column, featuring picks from GOLF.com’s expert prognosticator, Brady Kannon. You can follow Kannon on Twitter at @LasVegasGolfer and you can read below to see his favorite plays for the World Golf Championships Dell Technologies Match Play, which kicks off Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Keep scrolling past Kannon’s picks, and you’ll also see data from Chirp, a free-to-play mobile platform — and GOLF.com affiliate — that features a range of games with enticing prizes, giving fans all kinds of ways to engage in the action without risking any money.
The Tour’s version of March Madness is on again (and we are on a heater, correctly picking Taylor Moore to win the Valspar last week).
Like its college basketball counterpart, this week’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club will feature 64 contestants, seeded and placed in brackets that funnel the competition into a Final Four, and, ultimately, a single champ.
While most of us hope this won’t be the final match-play event on Tour, it does look like the end of the WGC series. It has already been announced that this will be the final iteration at Austin CC.
The course is a par-71 Pete Dye design, set along the Colorado River. A short course at just over 7,100 yards, it is terrific for match play with an emphasis on risk/reward that helps build drama. There are three par-5s, all reachable in two. There is a drivable par-4 and five par-4s in total that measure under 400 yards. With water in play on seven holes and deep sand bunkers, aggressive play can be either handsomely rewarded or severely punished.
Round 1 begins on Wednesday. The tournament is broken down into 16 groups of four. For the first three days, the groups will play a round-robin, with each player in their group getting to face one another in a match. The player to amass the most points in the group will advance to the weekend for the “Sweet 16.” A player receives a point for a match won, a half-point for a match that ends in a tie, and no points for a match lost. A match lost over the weekend will result in elimination from the tournament. Extra holes will be played over the weekend to determine a winner if the match is still tied after 18 holes.
From a betting standpoint, the WGC-Match Play is a blast. Two players engaged in an actual matchup, and not just a fictional one created by the oddsmaker like we have in a traditional stroke-play event. Every shot provides intrigue. The difficult part is the handicap. Anything can happen between two players over the course of 18 holes — and sometimes less than 18 holes if the match is closed out earlier. When handicapping a four-day stroke-play tournament, we are banking on a player’s skill set, course form and current form playing out over the course of four days. Here in Austin, we don’t really get that. The traditional four days are chopped up into individual matches, playing against a handful of different opponents rather than against an entire field, and that development of the handicap doesn’t necessarily manifest. With all of that being said, if you are getting involved in betting this tournament, I suggest you minimize the risk this week substantially.
For the skill sets at Austin Country Club, I looked at strokes gained: approach, strokes gained: par-4s, strokes gained: around the green, scrambling and birdies or better gained. As for correlated courses, I looked at all of the Dye tracks played on Tour as well as Waialae (Sony Open), Sea Island (RSM Classic) and Colonial Country Club (Charles Schwab Challenge). We don’t have ShotLink data for the WGC-Match Play, so these skill sets emphasized are more of an educated guess than proven statistics. We know for sure that approach is paramount each and every week. With 11 par-4s on the course, that area will also be important. Birdies will often win holes and so will the short game. A good putter holing long putts can sometimes be all it takes to win a match.
It is also worth noting the weather forecast for Austin this week as it looks like the first two days, Wednesday and Thursday, will have steady wind in the 10-20 mph range. Here’s who I like this week.
WGC Match Play picks
Patrick Cantlay (20-1)
Cantlay does not have many weaknesses in his game. He is second on Tour in birdie average, No. 1 in par-4 and par-5 scoring, 45th in SG: putting and 38th in scrambling. He also has an excellent history on Dye courses and is second-best in this field in SG: total on Dye courses over the last 36 rounds. The bad news is that he hasn’t ever made it out of the group stage in this event. This time around, Cantlay is the top seed in his group, over Brian Harman, Nick Taylor and K.H. Lee. On paper, he should be able to handle those three players and make it to the weekend. His career match-play record, here in Austin and also in President’s Cup and Ryder Cup play, is 8-5-2.
Tony Finau (22-1)
Finau’s career match-play record is a pedestrian 7-7-2, but I like those who he is paired against in his group in Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Adrian Meronk and Kirt Kitayama. Kitayama and Meronk are first-timers in this event and Bezuidenhout’s career match-play record is 1-5-1. Over the last 36 rounds, Finau ranks fifth in this field for SG: total and eighth for SG: total on courses measuring fewer than 7,200 yards. He’s fourth in SG: approach and second in birdies or better gained. Finau also has two top-5 finishes at Colonial, one of our correlated courses.
Tyrrell Hatton (25-1)
The Englishman has been playing excellent golf, coming off a runner-up finish at the Players Championship, and has had very good success at this event in the past, finishing top 10 three times. His overall match-play record is 9-9-2. It is not a cake walk group he is in with Lucas Herbert, Russell Henley and Ben Griffin, but Hatton clearly deserves to be the favorite. He has top-10 finishes at Harbour Town and Colonial and ranks sixth in this field in SG: putting on bermuda grass over the last 36 rounds. He’s also ninth in SG: approach and sixth in SG: par-4s. Throughout his career Hatton has also shown a tremendous ability to play in the wind.
Taylor Montgomery (80-1)
With our final two selections, we get into the long shots. This will be Montgomery’s first appearance at the WGC Match Play and that is not something I love, but putting can often carry a player in this format and Montgomery is one of the best putters on Tour, let alone in this field. He is second in the field in SG: putting on bermuda over the last 36 rounds, seventh in SG: par-4s and eighth in birdies or better gained. Having played at UNLV and all over the Southwest, Montgomery should have a knowledge and ability to negotiate playing in the wind. I also took a shot with Montgomery to win his group at +325.
Maverick McNealy (120-1)
The Stanford grad had been nursing an injury but has since returned to competition with a 60th-place finish at the Players and a 36th at the Valspar. McNealy took 17th here at the Match Play last year in his debut appearance. Like Montgomery, McNealy is one of the best putters in this field. In fact he is No. 1 over the last 36 rounds on bermuda from 5-10 feet and third in SG: putting overall. McNealy is No. 1 in this field over the last 36 rounds in scrambling, 13th in SG: par-4s and 26th in birdies or better gained. I played McNealy to win his group as well at 4-1.
First round head-to-head matchups (YTD 14-8-2)
Taylor Montgomery (+100) over Shane Lowry
Corey Conners (-135) over Sepp Straka
Will Zalatoris (-145) over Andrew Putnam
Tony Finau (-165) over Christiaan Bezuidenhout
Who Chirp users think will win
Scottie Scheffler – 39.46%
Jon Rahm – 18.52%
Rory McIlroy – 11.60%