Skip to main content

Winsday Hot List: Match Play madness

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
Getty Images

Every year, I obsess over my March Madness basketball bracket, highlighter in hand, marking my correct pick selections with a stroke of blue and my upsets with yellow. And when the madness comes early for us golf fans, I do the same with my WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship brackets. Cross-checking matches in progress between my TV and laptop, I get a thrill every time I can pull the cap off my pen.

I won a Golf Channel office pool in 2010 and each year since I am convinced that I’ll do it again. So convinced actually, that this year I filled out TWO different brackets – doubling my chances I presumed.

Which got me thinking, just how many options are out there? How many possible brackets could one create?

I did the math. Well, technically, I googled it.

With the swift click on “search” I found that with 63 total match winners – 32 in Round 1, 16 in Round 2, eight in Round 3, four in the semifinals, two in the final four, and then, at last, the championship winner – and two choices of outcomes, that makes … drum roll please … 9,223,372,036,854,775,808! That’s more than nine quintillion possible brackets.

When it comes to golf at this level, anyone can beat anyone on any given day. In fact, the lower seed has won 40 percent of the time in the tournament’s history.

Now I’m still all for educated guesses, but the research and odds that go into filling out your bracket do matter less this week in golf than they do next month in basketball. In the NCAA Tournament, you see a Cinderella story here and there, but in the Match Play Championship, often we see top-seed upsets and lesser-known international players making a run through the bracket.

So just how do you pick? Here’s a guideline as you fill out those brackets – with special thanks to our Golf Channel research team. Highlighters ready!

Tiger Woods

• Don’t go for a repeat champion

Only two players have won more than one Match Play title in the 14-year history, Tiger Woods (2003, 2004, 2008) and Geoff Ogilvy (2006, 2009).

• Going with the defending champion won’t necessarily pay off (see Hunter Mahan)

Only three times has the defending champion made it past the third round in the tournament’s history: Tiger Woods ('04 - won), Geoff Ogilvy ('07 - runner-up), and Henrik Stenson ('08 - semis).

Rory McIlroy in the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship second round

• Don’t take Rory

No runner-up has come back the following year and won.

• Go with a top-10 overall seed

Since the tournament came to the Golf Club at Dove Mountain in 2007, five of six times has the winner been a top-10 overall seed.

• Don’t be afraid to go for a Cinderella story

The lowest seed to win was Kevin Sutherland, 62nd, in 2002.

Fredrik Jacobson

• Beware of the fill-ins

Shane Lowery and Fredrik Jacobson were not inside the top-64 in the Official World Golf Rankings as of last Monday, but earned their place in the field with the absence of Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson.

• Want to go for the zero to hero?

Richard Sterne is the only player to play his way in on the last weekend before the cutoff (moving from 94th to 55th with his win at the JoBurg Open). Think G-Mac getting in on the nose into the U.S. Open then going on to win it all in 2010.

• Don’t take a first-timer

Other than the inaugural event in 1999 (Jeff Maggert), only one player has won in his first attempt (Geoff Ogilvy, 2006).

• It’s not crazy to pick a non-PGA Tour winner to go all the way

Four times has a player won their first PGA Tour title at the WGC Accenture Match Play: Darren Clarke (2000), Kevin Sutherland (2002), Henrik Stenson (2007), and Ian Poulter (2010).

Luke Donald wins the 2011 Accenture Match Play

• Go foreign

Only two of the last seven Accenture Match Play Championships have been won by an American (Tiger Woods in 2008, Hunter Mahan in 2012)