AUSTIN, Texas >> Put together the top 64 players available from the world ranking, have them play 112 matches over five days, and anything can happen.
That’s the beauty of the Dell Technologies Match Play.
Last year, Jason Day seemed to cruise at Austin Country Club, winning all seven of his matches — only his semifinal match against Rory McIlroy went to the 18th hole. Easy as he made it look, Day tweaked his back in the opening match and nearly didn’t show up the next day. Of course, he drove the first green, and off he went.
McIlroy won all seven of his matches the previous year, only he twice had to go to extra holes.
All that matters is winning, and sometimes even that doesn’t matter.
Byeong Hun An and Patton Kizzire last year won only one match in the round-robin play, halved two others, and still advanced out of their group. It can get complicated, though Sergio Garcia brought some simplicity to the most fickle of formats.
“You have to be very calm and just be a little bit better than your opponent,” Garcia said.
The Match Play is the featured attraction this week, mainly because golf doesn’t get very much match play except for the Dell Match Play, the Paul Lawrie Match Play on the European Tour and the Lorena Ochoa Match Play on the LPGA Tour, plus the Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup this year.
The LPGA Tour is at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, California, a strong field that will be warming up for the first major of the year at next week’s ANA Inspiration in the California desert. And while the top PGA Tour players are in Austin, the rest are at the Puerto Rico Open.
Also back in action this week is the Web.com Tour in Louisiana.
Two tournaments will be without defending champions. Tony Finau won in Puerto Rico last year, but he’s the first alternate in Match Play and is taking his chances by waiting around in Texas. Wesley Bryan won in Louisiana last year, and now he’s in Puerto Rico trying to win to get into the top 50 and receive a Masters invitation.
INTERNATIAON FEDERATION OF PGA TOURS
The early days of the Match Play brought out the unpredictable nature of the format, especially when it was single elimination. The seeds of the first four champions were No. 24 (Jeff Maggert), No. 19 (Darren Clarke), No. 55 (Steve Stricker) and No. 62 (Kevin Sutherland).
Since then, only one player beyond the No. 21 seed has won. That was Geoff Ogilvy (No. 52) at La Costa in 2006. Ogilvy went on to win the U.S. Open that summer.
Tiger Woods won three times, but he hasn’t been eligible the last three years and last played in 2013 when he lost to Charles Howell III in the opening round. Day will try to join Woods as a three-time winner. Along with winning a year ago, he outlasted the French magician , Victor Dubuisson, in a most wild affair in the Arizona desert even as Dubuisson was getting up-and-down from the cactus.
The No. 1 seed is Dustin Johnson, who won in Mexico three weeks ago and will try to become the first player to sweep all four World Golf Championships.
Television: Wednesday-Friday, 2-8 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2-6 p.m. (NBC). Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3-7 p.m. (NBC).
It was only three years ago that Stacy Lewis swept all the LPGA Tour awards, starting with player of the year.
Now she can’t seem to win.
Lewis was runner-up last week for the 12th time since her last victory in Arkansas in June 2014. She’s back to try again this week at the Kia Classic, which boasts another strong field with the first major of the year the following week.
Lydia Ko won the first of her four LPGA titles last year at Aviara Golf Club north of San Diego. No one has won the tournament more than once since it began in 2010.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 8:30-10:30 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday, 5:30-9 p.m. (Golf Channel); Sunday, 6-9 p.m. (Golf Channel).
Wesley Bryan’s latest trick might be his most difficult — getting into the Masters.
The South Carolina native famous for his trick-shot videos that made him a YouTube sensation will have to win the Puerto Rico to have any chance to get into the top 50 in the world. That’s critical because this is the last week to get into the top 50 and earn a spot in the Masters.
Bryan now lives in Augusta, Georgia, so the motivation is plenty strong.
Puerto Rico has produced first-time PGA Tour winners each of the last five years. The last two were in playoffs won by Finau and Alex Cejka.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday, 2-5:30 p.m. (Golf Channel); Sunday, 2:30-6 p.m. (Golf Channel).