Met their match: WGC-Match Play brackets set

By Ryan LavnerMarch 21, 2017, 12:55 am

Golf’s version of March Madness gets underway Wednesday at Austin Country Club.

But unlike the NCAA Tournament, which saw favorites Villanova, Duke and Louisville fail to survive the first weekend, there will be no early exits this week at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

All 64 players are guaranteed to play at least three matches. Sixteen groups of four players compete in pool play Wednesday through Friday. The winner of each group advances to the single-elimination knockout stage over the weekend.

Sixty-four of the top 70 players in the world are in the field, with Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Adam Hadwin opting not to play.

“It’s fun how it’s done now,” said Jordan Spieth, who is back in Austin, where he helped Texas win a NCAA team title in 2012. “It’s an opportunity for us to play more rounds, but also for the fans and the viewing audience to see players they want to see play multiple rounds instead of just one round on Wednesday and you’re out. The draw is the draw – you’ve got to play well no matter what.” 


Full bracket for the WGC-Dell Match Play

Tee times for Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Match Play


The top player with the most difficult draw is Hideki Matsuyama, who will have to face Louis Oosthuizen, who is 13-3 in this event the past three years, Ross Fisher, who tied for third at the WGC-Mexico earlier this month, and Jim Furyk, who has plenty of match-play experience.

Not far behind is the All-American Group 9, where top seed Patrick Reed will have to get past Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner and Jason Dufner. Interestingly, the lower seeds arrive in Texas playing the best in the group: Kisner, who tied for second at Bay Hill, and Dufner, who has four consecutive top 25s.  

The top overall seed is Dustin Johnson, but he has a treacherous road ahead, with four major champions in his group – reigning PGA champion Jimmy Walker, two-time winner Martin Kaymer and former U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson. The Match Play is the only WGC event that Johnson hasn’t won.

Defending champion Jason Day drew Bay Hill winner Marc Leishman, veteran Lee Westwood and fiery Pat Perez.

Of course, there is no easy route to victory when the best players in the world go head to head.

Since switching to the round-robin format, players ranked in the top 2 in the world have won each of the past two years: Rory McIlroy in 2015 and Day last year, when he shook off an early-week back injury to capture the title.

McIlroy has an 11-2-1 record in this event, after cruising to victory at TPC Harding Park. The player he beat in the final there – Gary Woodland – will get a chance at a rematch in pool play.

“I’m proud of my match-play record,” McIlroy said, “I feel like I’m good in that part of the game. I really pride myself on playing match play.”

Here are all of the groups:

Group 1: Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker (18), Martin Kaymer (41), Webb Simpson (58)

Group 2: Rory McIlroy, Emiliano Grillo (26), Gary Woodland (33), Soren Kjeldsen (62)

Group 3: Jason Day, Marc Leishman (28), Lee Westwood (43), Pat Perez (56)

Group 4: Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen (23), Ross Fisher (47), Jim Furyk (51)

Group 5: Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore (32), Yuta Ikeda (37), Hideto Tanihara (54)

Group 6: Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick (27), Kevin Na (46), Chris Wood (49)

Group 7: Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm (21), Kevin Chappell (38), Shane Lowry (53)

Group 8: Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari (25), Bernd Wiesberger (36), Thongchai Jaidee (57)

Group 9: Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka (20), Kevin Kisner (34), Jason Dufner (59)

Group 10: Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello (22), Jeunghun Wang (40), Charles Howell III (61)

Group 11: Danny Willett, Russell Knox (17), Bill Haas (42), K.T. Kim (64)

Group 12: Paul Casey, Charl Schwartzel (24), Byeong-Hun An (45), Joost Luiten (60)

Group 13: Bubba Watson, Thomas Pieters (30), Scott Piercy (39), Jhonattan Vegas (55)

Group 14: Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes (31), Daniel Berger (35), Si Woo Kim (63)

Group 15: Branden Grace, Brandt Snedeker (19), William McGirt (48), Andy Sullivan (52)

Group 16: Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood (29), Zach Johnson (44), Brendan Steele (50)

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”