This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
WGC-DELL TECHNOLOGIES MATCH PLAY
Winner's Share: $1.845M
FedEx Cup Points: 550 to the Winner
Location: Austin, Texas
Course: Austin Country Club
2018 champion: Bubba Watson
For as long as daily fantasy golf was around, this was always a dark week. DraftKings and others offered contests for every stroke-play tournament but never for match play. Then last year, DraftKings announced it would provide games for the WGC-Match Play for the first time, eliciting tweets of joy from the throng of gamers on Twitter. It was like Christmas morning, DFS style. And with the announcement, DK opened up a whole new world of fantasy-golf strategy. Since this is a once-a-year event, let's begin by detailing how the games work, because there are differences from how DK handles stroke-play tournaments.
We still pick six golfers with a $50,000 salary cap. But scoring will be based on holes won, halved and lost. Here's how it shakes out: Golfers get +3 points for a hole won, +0.75 points for a hole halved and -0.75 points for a hole lost. So, just as in DFS stroke play, winning a hole is far more beneficial than losing a hole is penal. Further, golfers will get +1.6 points for holes not played (if they win their match early), +5 points for winning a match and +2 points for halving a match. Lastly, a streak of three consecutive winning holes nets +5 points (a maximum of once per round), and not losing a hole in the entire match lands a hefty +7.5-point bonus. That's the crux of it, but there are some other caveats that can be found here.
As we can see, there are huge advantages to a blowout win, and when golfers take risks that pay off – and, in turn, gamers take risks that pay off – the benefits are large. We are just coming off four tournaments during the Florida Swing in which conservative play – bogey avoidance – was imperative. This week, we do a 180, and flag-hunting is something we'll want in our golfers. After all, if they miss and end up with a double bogey or even worse, it's just one hole lost. So with different golf and different scoring comes different lineup strategy. There are 16 groups of four golfers playing a round-robin format in the first round. Everybody plays at least three matches. The winner of each group advances to single-elimination match play. Obviously, getting as many of those 16 guys as possible in key. So, while you could take more than one guy in a group to better the chances of having someone advance, it seems far more prudent to pick six guys from six different groups, hoping all of them will advance, however unlikely it is that you'll nail a full six-pack. Taking the planning a step further, consider taking three guys in each half of the draw, further increasing the chance to make it deep into the tournament. All in all, the strategy is fascinating, and one of our key stats isn't a stat at all; it's examining the groups. Filling out the bottom of your lineup, look for weak four-man groups and get your long shots there.
As for the field, 62 of the top 64 in the OWGR are entered; only No. 8 Rickie Fowler and No. 29 Adam Scott took a pass – the third straight no-show for both of them, in fact. Three-time champion Tiger Woods (2003-04, '08) is entered for the first time since 2013, and he's among eight former winners in the field. The others are defending champ Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson (2017), Jason Day (2014, '16), Rory McIlroy (2015), Matt Kuchar (2013), Ian Poulter (2010) and Henrik Stenson (2007). Since the move to Austin in 2016, only three golfers have played the tournament at least twice without being eliminated in the round-robin phase: Brooks Koepka, Alex Noren and Charles Howell III. Ten golfers are making their WGC-Match Play debuts, and there are always some surprises, as we'll detail in the Champion's Profile below.
We have three years of history at Austin Country Club, but we will be looking a bit beyond Austin. There isn't a lot of match-play history going around, and it's a completely different animal from stroke play, so we believe info can be gleaned even from entirely different courses. Guys who are good at match play tend to be good at it no matter the track, as Day illustrated by winning at Austin but also at Dove Mountain in Tucson. Geoff Ogilvy won at La Costa in 2006 and repeated three years later at Dove Mountain.
But we will say that long hitters have won every year at Austin so far: Watson, Johnson and Day. Shorter hitters have come close, such as Kevin Kisner, last year's runner-up. The Pete Dye-developed course features distinct nines – the front is much hillier on high ground, which is more traditional for Texas, while the back is referred to as the "lowlands nine" along Lake Austin. The track features vast elevation changes and deep pot bunkers. The three par-5s are no shorter than 565, a definite edge to the longer hitters. There are also five par-4s under 400 yards, including the risk/reward 317-yard 13th in which golfers could go for the green – if they decide to challenge a small lake. (Talk about Liquid Courage!) In all, it's the perfect track for match play: lots of opportunities to be aggressive.
Weather-wise, we're looking at temperatures in the upper 70s to low 80s, with little chance of rain all week. The forecast calls for double-digit mph wind all five days, typical of courses in Texas and the Southwest.
Five days? Yes. Remember, the tournament begins on Wednesday, so don't get locked out.
Key Stats to Winning at Austin Country Club
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Greens in regulation, especially from 200+ yards/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/ strokes gained: around the green
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Birdie or better percentage
• Finding weakness in 4-man groupings
2018 - Bubba Watson (Austin CC)
2017 - Dustin Johnson (Austin CC)
2016 - Jason Day (Austin CC)
2015 - Rory McIlroy (TPC Harding Park)
2014 - Jason Day (The GC at Dove Mountain)
2013 - Matt Kuchar (Dove Mountain)
2012 - Hunter Mahan (Dove Mountain)
2011 - Luke Donald (Dove Mountain)
2010 - Ian Poulter (Dove Mountain)
2009 - Geoff Ogilvy (Dove Mountain)
The round-robin format replaced single elimination in 2015 to keep the big names around longer. Everybody now gets at least three matches, but we still see stars bounced in the first round. Even one bad match, even with a 2-1 record, can spell doom. That said, there certainly has been a lot of chalk or near-chalk among the winners over the past four years, and even longer, but some big long shots tend to make it pretty deep into the week, too. Since 2015, a bunch of golfers seeded in the 40s, 50s or even 60s have reached at least the quarterfinals: John Senden, Danny Willett and Tommy Fleetwood four years ago; Chris Kirk and Ryan Moore three years ago; Hideto Tanihara and Soren Kjeldsen two years ago; and Ian Poulter, Cameron Smith and Kyle Stanley last year. Willett and Tanihara were semifinalists. Such is the capricious nature of match play, in which a golfer needs to beat only one guy at a time, not an entire field. A great putter has a puncher's chance every match. And more aggressive play can lead to a knockout. The last five winners all would be considered long hitters. One last thing to consider: With the two finalists needing to play seven matches over five days, including two matches on both Saturday and Sunday, fitness surely plays a part in success or failure.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
After the prices were released a few days ago, we had some guys in mind. But after seeing the draw on Monday night, we made some adjustments, picking guys we thought had the best chance to emerge from their round-robin groups.
Tier 1 Values
No. 4 seed Rory McIlroy - $11,700 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 10-1)
McIlroy's seeding is based on world ranking but tellingly, he is the No. 1 guy on the DraftKings board and the co-betting favorite along with Dustin Johnson. We were prepared to go with Johnson until seeing he was grouped with Hideki Matsuyama. McIlroy is bunched with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List. Fitzpatrick is no pushover, but he's also not Matsuyama. McIlroy won the Match Play in its first year of round-robin play in 2015, but that was at TPC Harding Park. He also finished fourth in 2016 but bowed out in the first round the past two years.
No. 5 seed Justin Thomas - $11,000 (14-1)
Thomas is a very aggressive player, just the type we're looking for this week. While he lost to eventual champion Bubba Watson in the semifinals a year ago, Thomas had a couple of blowout wins, 7&5 over Francesco Molinari and 6&5 over Si Woo Kim. Thomas leads the PGA Tour in birdie or better percentage. If we hadn't already burned Thomas in the RotoWire One and Done Pool, he would be our choice this week.
No. 3 seed Brooks Koepka - $10,300 (20-1)
Koepka's price and odds do not align with his world ranking because he has not been playing at the top of his game. There's been some chatter about how he's lost a lot of weight very quickly, and that's been the source of his decline. But he was recently runner-up at the Honda. He also is in one f the weaker groups, alongside struggling Alex Noren, Haotong Li and Tom Lewis. Koepka got out of the first round the first two years at Austin; he missed last year with a wrist injury.
Tier 2 Values
No. 7 seed Francesco Molinari - $9,300 (25-1)
Molinari has had a terrible record in the tournament, but this is the first Match Play since he kicked his career into another gear last year. He also kind of/sort of did well in Ryder Cup last fall, including bouncing Phil Mickelson 4&2 in Sunday singles in the Cup-clinching match. The Italian is situated in one of the weaker groups with Webb Simpson, Thorbjorn Olesen and Satoshi Kodaira.
No. 13 seed Tiger Woods - $9,200 (25-1)
As the ping-pong balls were getting fewer and fewer, the chance of Woods getting grouped with a really strong player was strong. He wound up with Patrick Cantlay. Now, Cantlay is no slouch, but he's a conservative player and therefore a favorable matchup for Woods. Brandt Snedeker, a great putter, and Aaron Wise, and aggressive player, round out the quartet. It's far from a slam-dunk that Woods advances, but this is not one of the stronger groups. Woods is ranked 19th on Tour in birdie or better percentage.
No. 16 seed Patrick Reed - $8,600 (40-1)
We think whatever swing issues Reed experienced last week at the Valspar, necessitating a 911 call to superstar coach David Leadbetter, are nothing that match play can't cure. Reed has made a name for himself in match play. Granted, Reed is more ferocious when playing for the red, white and blue. But he has advanced to single elimination two of the past three years. Reed is grouped with Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel and Kevin Na.
Tier 3 Values
No. 30 seed Ian Poulter - $7,700 (30-1)
They kept calling Poulter the "Match Play Ninja" on Golf Channel. His Ryder Cup record is well documented. But he's also won the Match Play, albeit almost a decade ago in 2010, has reached the final four twice and was a quarterfinalist last year. We were prepared to sidestep Poulter this week, thinking he'd be a popular pick, but flipped when we saw his placement in what will be perceived as a strong grouping. We think he can advance over Tony Finau, who is struggling a bit and not a good putter; Kevin Kisner, the runner-up last year and a gritty player but one who slips a little more each year; and Keith Mitchell, a very impressive young player but perhaps a bit overmatched in his first Match Play.
No. 19 seed Louis Oosthuizen - $7,500 (40-1)
Watch out for this guy. In the past five months, Oosty has a win and a runner-up (on Sunday at the Valspar), plus a third, fourth and fifth. He was Match Play runner-up to Jason Day in 2016 and a quarterfinalist in the two years before that. Tommy Fleetwood is a tough out in this group, but Kyle Stanley and Byeong-Hun An are not.
No. 29 seed Rafa Cabrera-Bello - $7,500 (60-1)
The Spaniard finished third at this tournament in 2016. We believe he's in one of the weaker quartets, which also includes Xander Schauffele, Tyrrell Hatton and Lee Westwood. Cabrera Bello has the capability to catch fire with his putter and his ranked 30th in birdie or better percentage.
No. 34 seed Eddie Pepperell - $6,900 (100-1)
The Englishman does not have much match play experience, having never been in this tournament or the Ryder Cup. But we do like his free-wheeling persona for this format, not to mention a game that has lifted him into the top-40 in the world for the first time. He faces a tough test in trying to get past Justin Rose, but Gary Woodland and Emiliano Grillo strike fear in no one in match play.
No. 51 seed Andrew Putnam - $6,100 (200-1)
This, admittedly, is a dart throw. But Putnam is not in a super strong group (Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry). He is an elite putter, ranked ninth on Tour in strokes gained: putting, plus 20th in greens in regulation and tied for 30th in birdie or better percentage.
No. 61 seed Aaron Wise - $6,000 (150-1)
At the very, very bottom of the DK board – and we do mean bottom – sit three guys at $6,000. Wise is in the top-64 in the OWGR thanks largely to three events. He won the Byron Nelson (in Texas), tied for sixth at the WGC-Bridgestone and tied for fifth at the Northern Trust in the playoffs. Largely, though, he has not played great since that first Tour win almost a year ago. But we do like Wise's type of game this week; he's super aggressive. He is ranked 14th on Tour in birdie or better percentage. We already picked one of his group-mates, Tiger Woods, but this is a spot where we see a chance for a rel darkhorse to emerge.