Patrick Cantlay can win the WGC-Match Play according to Ben Coley, who has a selection from each of the four quarters including one at a massive price.
2pts e.w. Patrick Cantlay at 22/1 (Sky Bet 1/4 1,2,3,4)
1.5pts e.w. Matt Fitzpatrick at 33/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Corey Conners at 70/1 (Betfred 1/4 1,2,3,4)
0.5pt e.w. Victor Perez at 150/1 (Unibet 1/4 1,2,3,4)
The final edition of the WGC-Match Play will also be the weakest and it's a shame that this tournament has to bow out this way. It's not to everyone's taste and can be a nightmare for the punter, but the first three days of television make for some of the best this sport can produce and had the LIV Golf renegades been allowed to play, they would've been unmissable.
Many will call it a lottery, but four of seven editions in the round-robin format have gone to a member of the world's top five, all of whom were atop the rankings the following Monday. All told, 18 of the 28 semi-finalists were from the top two pools and the lowest-ranked player to capture the title had been beaten in the final a year earlier.
That's not to say it's easy to solve, because it isn't. There might be less depth than we're used to, more players who would buck the trends and two course-proven elites who hold sway in the betting, but one bad day at the office can still spell the end of anyone's bid for an invaluable pre-Masters boost.
Before getting onto the groups, a word on the course. Austin Country Club is a Pete Dye design which shares something in common with virtually all others in that name, in that it's quirky. There are some severe elevation changes and places you simply cannot miss, and a lot of holes will be conceded before either player has had to reach for a putter.
It's this which best explains why certain players have thrived here and others have not. Time and again we've heard about Kevin Kisner's supposed match play credentials, but really they're Austin Country Club credentials. Players like him, who at their best hit fairways, avoid mistakes and hole putts, have been very effective here – see Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren, Abraham Ancer and more besides.
That could be a problem for the 18 newcomers (17 debutants plus Scott Stallings, who hasn't played in the event at this course), though Victor Perez and Lucas Bjerregaard both made the last four on their respective debuts. That's a nice reminder of the format's inherent volatility but neither man went the distance and it's overwhelmingly likely that the champion on Sunday is an elite player with experience here.
Finally, note that the last eight finalists have all been from the southern states, namely South Carolina, Texas, Florida and Georgia. It's not something I consider to be fundamental, as you may already have noticed, but it might be a way to help dig through those on offer at big prices if you're seeking a surprise quarter-finalist.
Now we'll get to the groups. I've named each quarter for ease, so that you can see that the winner of quarter one will play the winner of quarter two. This means that Scheffler cannot face Jon Rahm or Rory McIlroy before the final. The PGA Tour website has a really good bracket which allows you to click player names and advance them through the draw.
Top seed Scottie Scheffler has drawn the highest-ranked player from the second pot, but can't really have any complaints about the way his section has panned out.
Yes, Tom Kim is a threat and far from the player you'd choose to face, but he's not been setting the world alight of late. It may be that a return to match play golf helps and Austin Country Club could suit given his accuracy from the tee, but Scheffler's 10-2-2 Austin record is a fearsome one and the Texan is a strong favourite.
Alex Noren also boasts a superb record at this course and is respected on the strength of it, but his form of late has been troublingly poor. Davis Riley, who will begin his first and only WGC-Match Play against Scheffler, faces a real baptism of fire but could just prove the biggest hurdle for the defending champion to clear.
Whoever wins the group will fancy their chances of advancing to the quarter-finals. Sungjae Im has finished bottom of his group in both previous starts, Tommy Fleetwood arrives off a draining fortnight in the heat of battle, Maverick McNealy is working his way back to full fitness after a brief spell on the sidelines, and JT Poston isn't one to fear.
McNealy did beat Joaquin Niemann 8&6 on his course and tournament debut last year and as a top-class putter is always dangerous, so there is some scope for an upset in Group 16. Regardless, I'll be a little bit surprised if the pick of the quartet gets much further in the tournament unless Fleetwood can get on a roll.
On the other side of this quarter, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland are drawn to face each other in the last 16. That would be a rematch of their 2021 Ryder Cup tie and they of course know each other's games very well having battled many times in college.
Morikawa's group features former winner Jason Day, very much back to form this year, plus VICTOR PEREZ and Adam Svensson. Perez took advantage of a favourable draw to reach the final day in 2021 but shouldn't be underestimated, while Day's two wins in this tournament make him a far worse draw than his ranking might otherwise suggest.
It's undeniably a tricky draw for Perez, much more so than two years ago, but he's since won a couple more DP World Tour events including in very good company two months ago. With Dye form extending to Sawgrass and having played nicely enough last week, he looks overpriced to come through an admittedly difficult section.
For Hovland, there are a couple of tricky matches against dead-eye putters in Chris Kirk and Matt Kuchar, the latter having made the final in 2019 and the semi-finals last year. He's shown glimpses of his best play during the early months of the year and needs a big run to qualify for the Masters in his adopted home state of Georgia.
I was pretty sweet on Hovland before the draw, but less so now. Given that his odds haven't moved in the direction I feel they should have, he's going to have to be left out of the staking plan in favour of a more speculative play on Perez. Take eight places if you don't want to worry about having to beat Scheffler, but I'll opt for the biggest price.
PATRICK CANTLAY would've been my idea of a bet without the draw, so it's pleasing to see him handed a favourable one. KH Lee and Brian Harman are both struggling and Nick Taylor, while solid, is a debutant you have to fancy beating.
Cantlay is yet to get out of his group in four tries, but it's worth noting that he's finished runner-up each time, to Cam Smith, Tiger Woods, Harman and Seamus Power. His 6-4-2 return is perfectly solid and he's just been a little unlucky with the way things have panned out.
It's fair to offer up some concerns as to a downturn in his putting so far this year, but finishes of third (Genesis), fourth (Bay Hill) and 19th (Sawgrass) mark him down as one of the form players in the game and it can be argued that nobody is driving the ball as well as he is right now.
In truth it was only some bizarrely poor shots around the green that kept him from challenging for second place behind Scheffler in The PLAYERS, where Cantlay nevertheless produced his best result yet to enhance what's a strong record on Dye-designed courses.
He comes here fresh and in-form and while yet to claim a major scalp in this tournament, he's beaten Joaquin Niemann, Adam Scott and Shane Lowry in USA colours for a perfect 3-0-0 record as a professional. At a course where his all-round game really should thrive, I think he'll be a hard man to beat.
If he does come through, he'll face the winner of arguably the weakest group in the event. Sam Burns is the only seeded debutant and while Power went well for a long time last year, he's under pressure with Ryder Cup points to play for and struggled in Florida. I'd rather chance Adam Scott, but winning the group is about as far as I'd expect him to go.
In Group 5, Max Homa should prove that a good course record can only take you so far and beat a badly out-of-sorts Kisner in his second match. Doing so might set him on a path to the quarter-finals although Justin Suh and Hideki Matsuyama, whom he faces either side, are no pushovers.
Matsuyama clicked in the final round at Sawgrass and is capable of producing a burst of golf which is almost unbeatable, so if his fitness holds up he's the biggest threat. Suh comes with one big negative, that this will be his sixth start in a row, but on day one that shouldn't be an excuse so Homa will need to be on his guard.
Still, he was awesome at the Presidents Cup, is among the best players in the world right now and has played nicely on both previous visits to Austin, so he's likely to advance to face Jordan Spieth or Shane Lowry. Spieth has to bounce back but is back in his home state with his game in good shape, while Lowry is a fearsome competitor who struck the ball really well last time.
That's not to say this is straightforward beyond those two. Taylor Montgomery is one of the best putters on the PGA Tour and could embarrass anyone over 18 holes. Mackenzie Hughes occasionally looks like one of the best in that department, too, and this is the right kind of course for the Canadian (4-2-1).
Homa is the one with fewest questions to answer and splitting stakes with Cantlay in anticipation of a quarter-final meeting did make some appeal. I'll stick with the latter, whose path looks more straightforward.
Although yet to win this title, 2017 finalist Jon Rahm boasts a 12-7-3 record at Austin. His withdrawal from The PLAYERS is nothing to worry about and there's only one player in the field who can be considered a more likely champion.
Rahm could've landed better draw given that Rickie Fowler and Keith Mitchell have both threatened to win this year, and Billy Horschel is a former champion at the course.
Although it's Horschel who has achieved most here, Mitchell has beaten Ian Poulter and taken Kisner down the 17th while Fowler, on his sole appearance to date, halved two of his three matches and lost the other only narrowly. Rahm will be fancied to advance but all three ties look tricky.
By contrast, I think Group 15 has a vulnerable favourite and a couple more who are unconvincing so, with Rahm by no means guaranteed to lie in wait in the last 16, I want to be on COREY CONNERS at 66s.
Beating course specialists Noren and Louis Oosthuizen last year shows how comfortable Conners is at Austin, as does the fact he was able to stop a red-hot Ancer in his tracks. Although losing his semi-final to Kisner, he went on to beat Dustin Johnson to seal third place.
With his sole PGA Tour win to date having come in Texas, and having shown a good level of form at other Dye designs (17th Kiawah Island, seventh Sawgrass, fourth Harbour Town), the Canadian could go a long way once more. His relentless ball-striking reminds me a little of former runner-up Hunter Mahan and he was in good form prior to a blip last time out.
As for why I like his group, Cam Young hasn't been totally convincing of late and is less suited to the course, having finished bottom of his group last year. He also begins a new relationship with caddie Paul Tesori and it's a very difficult place to be doing that.
With Sepp Straka largely poor this season and rookie Davis Thompson of the Young mould in terms of power over precision, this looks a nice draw for the least explosive but most consistent member of the quartet. Perhaps someone can take care of Rahm for us but if not, Conners would not be easily swept aside.
The bottom of this section is tricky, particularly Group 7. Will Zalatoris is the class act but his fitness and form both remain concerns, while Andrew Putnam is out of sorts and so is Harris English bar an exceptional week on the greens at Bay Hill.
English could light it up here, too, but Ryan Fox is the form pick. He followed 14th place in the Arnold Palmer with 27th at Sawgrass, both fine efforts, and the world number 34 could be this year's surprise package. Certainly, his draw gives him a chance.
In Group 10, Tony Finau has a losing record here but has certainly landed in a good spot. Christiaan Bezuidenhout is yet to win in six matches, finishing bottom of his group both times. Kurt Kitayama can be wild and could be punished for that here while inexperienced Adrian Meronk was last seen shooting 81.
It's no wonder the in-form Finau has been well-backed since the draw was made but at this particular course he's not for me and while Fox was appealing at three-figure prices, one roll of the dice is plenty for this quarter of the draw.
Rory McIlroy arrives in Austin still searching for the right formula off the tee. He has at least landed a nice group, with main danger Keegan Bradley having withdrawn from one of his favourite tournaments prior to tee-off last week, but Denny McCarthy could be a giant-killer if he copes with the occasion.
Scott Stallings is less of a worry and McIlroy might see it as an ideal opportunity to find his way back into form, although I'd remind everyone that he nearly won on his penultimate start. Regardless of that, he's probably a little on the short side at 12/1.
Why? Because of the prospect of facing Tyrrell Hatton in the last 16 stage. Hatton is playing really well and his record at Austin, as well as other Dye designs, is very strong. All told he's 9-6-2 in this event, all at this course, and he's seen off McIlroy in what was for a time a private duel for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for good measure.
With four top-10s in six starts so far this year, Hatton is back to his best and certainly rates a difficult opponent for anyone. The trouble is the betting reflects that and having been the subject of plenty of support both before and after the draw, I'm going to leave him out.
Partly, that reflects another danger man in his group, Russell Henley. A broadly similar player only without the putting touch of late, Henley's record here looks poor but never has he lost a match by a margin greater than 2&1. On the back of a top-20 at Sawgrass, I'd rather back him at four-times Hatton's price.
Ben Griffin and Lucas Herbert complete the group, the former one of the quiet success stories of the season and the latter a red-hot putter at his best. Herbert though arrives in terrible form and Griffin is a debutant, so this group ought to go to the form book whether in favour of Hatton or Henley.
Group 6 looks between Xander Schauffele and Tom Hoge, the latter having produced a spectacular fightback in The PLAYERS, but the very bottom of this section isn't especially strong and I can't let MATT FITZPATRICK go unbacked at 33/1 and bigger.
Yes, he was a huge disappointment last week, but one bad swing followed by a bad break on his third hole isn't a particular concern and he was two-under for the other 35. Nor is the neck problem which was mentioned as a potential diagnosis, as he'd earlier suggested all was well and would surely have withdrawn, or else not entered in the first place, were it a hindrance.
Remove that and you've the 11th-ranked player in the field, one very fond of Dye courses having played well at Sawgrass and Harbour Town, and who beat Poulter and Fleetwood last year before losing a sudden-death play-off to the eventual champion, Scheffler.
It would've been hard on the latter to go out but he came mighty close to defeat, Fitzpatrick missing from around 10 feet during that sudden-death showdown, and it confirmed my belief that this course should bring out the best in the Englishman. For the record, he was 40/1 then, too, when ranked 25th in the world, facing a stronger field, and not having won in the US.
He's among the handful with two debutants in his group and while I obviously have respect for Min Woo Lee, sixth at Sawgass, this course might not be for him. Fitzpatrick has now finished runner-up in his group three times and should make it fourth-time lucky.
Given the nature of his draw, I'm keen to back Fitzpatrick with eight places if possible. That means topping the group and then winning one match for a place payout. He'll do that if back to his best.
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