As a European writing a preview about match-play golf, there’s a huge temptation to gloat about the Ryder Cup.
So where shall I start? Medinah? Gleneagles? Celtic Manor? The K Club? Oakland Hills? There are just so many (turns to camera and winks).
Anyway, enough cheapshots.
The bottom line is that Europeans love this format and have a pretty decent record in this week’s tournament too -- the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship.
In the last seven editions, we’ve seen three European winners, two Americans and two Australians.
The switch of venue to TPC Harding Park in San Francisco might just help the Euros too.
This course was used for the WGC-American Express Championship in 2005 and five Europeans cracked the top 10.
Time for some lists…..
Last 10 WGC-Cadillac Match Play finals
2014 Jason Day (Australia) bt Victor Dubuisson (France)
2013 Matt Kuchar (USA) bt Hunter Mahan (USA)
2012 Hunter Mahan (USA) bt Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
2011 Luke Donald (England) bt Martin Kaymer (Germany)
2010 Ian Poulter (England) bt Paul Casey (England)
2009 Geoff Ogilvy (Australia) bt Paul Casey (England)
2008 Tiger Woods (USA) bt Stewart Cink (USA)
2007 Henrik Stenson (Sweden) bt Geoff Ogilvy (Australia)
2006 Geoff Ogilvy (Australia) bt Davis Love III (USA)
2005 David Toms (USA) bt Chris DiMarco (USA)
Top 10 at 2005 WGC-American Express Championship at Harding Park
-10 Tiger Woods (USA) – won playoff
-10 John Daly (USA)
-8 Sergio Garcia (Spain)
-8 Colin Montgomerie (Scotland)
-8 Henrik Stenson (Sweden)
-5 David Howell (England)
-5 Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland)
-5 Vijay Singh (Fiji)
-5 David Toms (USA)
-4 Stephen Ames (Canada)
One of the nightmares for players and TV companies alike was that the elite players could be slamming their trunks on Wednesday night – a day before a regular Tour event even starts. To eliminate that possibility, a new round-robin format has been introduced which guarantees all 64 players some action until Friday. To facilitate this, players will be grouped in 16 x four-man pods. Each of the top 16 in the world rankings will be placed atop the group with the other slots filled -- World Cup soccer-style – with players from the next three ‘pots’ (17-32, 33-48 and 49-64). One example could be a pod filled by the World No’s 2, 25, 38 and 63). The player with the best record in each group advances to the Round of 16 where the tournament switches to straight knockout (in the event of a two-way tie in a group, head-to-head results will be used as the tiebreaker; a three-way tie will require a sudden-death playoff).
Wednesday: Round-robin matches
Thursday: Round-robin matches
Friday: Round-robin matches
Saturday: AM: Round of 16; PM: Quarter-finals
Sunday: AM: Semi-finals; PM: Final/Consolation Match
TPC at Harding Park is a 7,115-yard tree-lined par 71 with a nice variety of holes. With Woods and Daly contesting a playoff there in 2005, it might suggest big hitters dominate but the high finishes of Monty, McDowell
and David Toms show that short drivers can do well too. It also staged the 2009 Presidents Cup where Tiger went 5-0-0. He must be frustrated his world ranking isn’t enough to get him into the field this week. Ernie Els and Ryo Ishikawa (3-2-0) top scored for the Internationals. Harding Park certainly provides a stark contrast to previous host venue Dove Mountain – one an old-style tree-lined course, the other a wide-open desert track which favoured bombers.
In total, 30 of the 64-man field are available to pick for the European Tour Fantasy game. Let’s look at them all.
Rory got to the final of this event in 2012 but that’s his only trip beyond the second round in the last five years. He played in the round-robin format at the Volvo Match Play Championship in Spain in 2009 and 2011 but the safety net didn’t really help and he didn’t make the knockout phase. McIlroy’s last experience of match-play was a 5&4 hammering of Rickie Fowler in the 2014 Ryder Cup while he’s coming in off his best Masters finish (4th) so he looks an automatic pick for the European Tour game even though West Coast specialist Snedeker could be a big danger.
Group rivals: Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner
If healthy (he battled ‘flu during his T19 at Augusta), Stenson should be a big factor. He won this event in 2007, was third 12 months later and last year he got to the final of the Volvo Match Play Championship in England before losing to Mikko Ilonen. That came after he’d scored 3pts in four matches at the Ryder Cup although he did lose his singles to Patrick Reed. The World No. 3 can even boast course form too having finished T3 at Harding Park in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship. That latter performance adds a layer of confidence.
Group rivals: Bill Haas, Brendon Todd, John Senden
Rose is a must-pick for the European Tour Fantasy game. His latest form is superb with a win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and a second place at the Masters. And he’s a demon at match-play. He was the top points scorer of the 24 players on show in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, produced that dramatic singles win over Phil Mickelson at Medinah and also beat Tiger in the semis and Lee Westwood in the final to win the 8-man Turkish Airlines World Golf Final (a non-Tour event) in 2012. The only negative is a very poor record in this event (he’s been beyond the Round of 32 just once in nine appearances) but he’ll like this course and it isn’t the hardest group.
Group rivals: Ryan Palmer, Anirban Lahiri, Marc Leishman
Sergio loves a bit of match-play and has defeated Jim Furyk in the singles at the last two Ryder Cups. That said, his record in team play in this format is superior and in this event he’s been poor with a fourth place in 2010 the only time he’s gone beyond the Round of 16 in 12 appearances. The switch to Harding Park will benefit him as Garcia was T3 there in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship and enjoys this type of course.
Group rivals: Jamie Donaldson, Bernd Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood
Reed could be the Ian Poulter of the US Ryder Cup team for years to come if Gleneagles is anything to go by. In an exaggerated form of his usual pumped-up self, Reed formed a dynamic partnership with Jordan Spieth, shushed the crowd, won his singles and ended as the USA’s top scorer with 3.5pts. Shortly after that, he returned to the UK to take part in the Volvo World Match Play at the London Club and advanced through his group before losing to George Coetzee in the last eight. The South African also beat him in the Round of 32 in this event last year. As for recent form, Reed was T22 at the Masters and missed the cut at Hilton Head.
Group rivals: Ryan Moore, Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan
Kaymer got to the final of this event in 2011 and has a career singles record of 17-14 which includes a 4&2 victory over Bubba Watson in the last Ryder Cup. He also made the last four of the 2011 Volvo World Match Play in Spain which used the round-robin format. The concern for Kaymer is a run of three straight missed cuts, the latest a 76-75 blowout at Augusta National which left him saying he needed a break from the game.
Group rivals: Jim Furyk, Thongchai Jaidee, George Coetzee
Koepka had to battle a rib injury at Augusta National so did okay to finish T33 on his debut. The American’s match-play record as a pro is non-existent. This is his debut in the event after he just failed to get in on world ranking last year. One plus is that he won on the West Coast earlier this season when landing the Waste Management Phoenix Open. This is a tricky group and Holmes and Henley may prove tough to take down.
Group rivals: J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley, Marc Warren
The Frenchman’s few dabblings in match-play have proven a huge success. He got to the final of this event last year and just wouldn’t lie down, playing some miracle shots from cactus plants to stay alive against Jason Day. He also secured 2.5pts from 3 matches at his Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles, halving his singles with Zach Johnson. He’s still something of an enigma and missed the cut at the Masters on his last start.
Group rivals: Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Matt Jones
The match-play Monster! Poulter has made his name in this format, most notably in Ryder Cups where he was top European points scorer in the last two tournaments played on American soil. The eyes were popping out of his head again when he won this event in 2010, beating fellow Englishman Paul Casey in the final, while he also captured the 2011 World Match Play Championship in Spain under a round-robin format. Poults was even T18 in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship at Harding Park and T6 at the Masters so is there anything not to like? Walker’s West Coast exploits deserve respect and Simpson won a US Open in California but Poulter can’t be left out.
Group rivals: Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland
Donaldson’s most memorable moment came in the last Ryder Cup at Gleneagles when a brilliant approach to kick-in range secured the winning point for Europe. That victory against Keegan Bradley was a rare success in this format, though, as he’s only won two of 11 matches across various match-play tournaments (Seve, Volvo World Match Play, Eurasia Cup). The Welshman hasn’t been in the best of form either, with three missed cuts in his last four starts although he did play all four rounds at the Masters.
Group rivals: Sergio Garcia, Bernd Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood
Another match-play specialist, G-Mac has his place in the Ryder Cup history books after securing victory in 2010 by grabbing the winning point against Hunter Mahan. He also went 3-for-3 at Gleneagles, leading Europe out in the top match and beating Jordan Spieth. His overall match-play record is superb (30 wins against 14 losses) and it includes victory in the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria and runs to the quarter-finals in this event in both 2013 and 2014. You want more? How about McDowell winning his US Open in California (Pebble Beach 2010) and also finishing T6 at Harding Park in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship. Latest form? T26 at Hilton Head.
Group rivals: Rickie Fowler, Shane Lowry, Harris English
Surprisingly, he’s played only one singles match at the Presidents Cup (halved) and only has 12 other head-to-head duels in this format on his CV (five wins, seven losses). At least his best in this event came last year when the South African made the quarter-finals. Current form offers more encouragement as he was T7 at The Heritage after a T19 at Augusta National.
Group rivals: Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Miguel Angel Jimenez
Westwood has been the backbone of plenty of winning European Ryder Cup teams but has a curiously poor record in this event. He’s been beyond the Round of 32 just once although that was a fourth place in 2012. Overall in his pro match-play career he just sneaks into positive figures (won 29, lost 28). He’ll probably wish this event had been moved to Asia as he’s just won there for the ninth time after capturing the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters. He was T51 at Harding Park in the 2005 WGC event held there. Spieth’s presence is off-putting for gamers wanting to get Westwood on board.
Group rivals: Jordan Spieth, Matt Every, Mikko Ilonen
The good news is that the Indian has a 100% record in match-play. However, it’s courtesy of just a single win, a 2&1 success over Victor Dubuisson in the 2014 Eurasia Cup. After two wins on the European Tour this season, Lahiri has started to cut his teeth on the PGA Tour and he’s started well. He made the cut on his Masters debut (T49) and also played all four rounds at Hilton Head (T44) but will have to get past in-form Justin Rose in Group 6.
Group rivals: Justin Rose, Ryan Palmer, Marc Leishman
The South African is a class act but nothing really grips you about his chances this week. He’s got a 50% record (won 6, lost 6) in this tournament and hasn’t been beyond the last 16. His current form is modest too – T55, T38 and T42 and a coldish putter isn’t ideal going into a match-play event. A T18 at Harding Park in 2005 offers a little comfort but gamers are likely to look elsewhere with Dustin Johnson a formidable obstacle.
Group rivals: Dustin Johnson, Victor Dubuisson, Matt Jones
Grace is the type of pugnacious character who should enjoy head-to-head battles but he’s twice made a day one exit in this event and also lost his singles to Zach Johnson in the 2013 Presidents Cup. However, he did make it to the semi-finals of the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria two years ago (losing to McDowell in the last four) and was an encouraging T7 in the Heritage on his last outing. He’ll need to get past defending champ Jason Day in Group 7 though and Johnson and Hoffman are tough opponents too.
Group rivals: Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Charley Hoffman
Nothing suggests Gallacher shouldn’t be good at match-play but his singles defeat to Phil Mickelson in the 2014 Ryder Cup made it eight defeats out of eight in this format in all events. That streak extended to 10 after a couple of losses in the 2014 Volvo World Match Play in England before he finally came good against Victor Dubuisson in his last round-robin match. He missed the cut at the Masters as well if you needed putting off further.
Group rivals: Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Ben Martin
The Austrian continues to flourish and, after a great run on the European Tour in the early months of the season, he finished top debutant (T22) at the Masters and shot four rounds in the 60s at last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans (T33). So is he any good at match-play? It’s hard to say as he’s only played twice. He beat Hiroyuki Fujita 3&2 at the 2013 Royal Trophy but lost by the same margin against Matt Kuchar in the first round at this event last year. He’s certainly capable of winning this all-European group.
Group rivals: Sergio Garcia, Jamie Donaldson, Tommy Fleetwood
Luiten has a strong overall match-play record (66%) after six wins and three defeats in his singles matches across the Seve Trophy, Eurasia Cup, Volvo World Match Play and this event. Five of those victories came at the 2014 Volvo World Match Play in England where he finished third. Recent form is patchy though. An early exit at Augusta National was his third straight missed cut although he did bounce back with a T31 at The Heritage.
Group rivals: Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na, Alexander Levy
Jaidee reached the final of the 2013 Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria (lost to Ian Poulter) and also made the last eight of this event in 2010 before Poults took him out again. Generally, though, he struggles in big events on American soil as highlighted by three recent performances – T69 at the WGC-Cadillac, T55 at the Masters and MC at The Heritage. He was also a lowly T60 at Harding Park in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship.
Group rivals: Jim Furyk, Martin Kaymer, George Coetzee
Lowry famously took the scalp of fellow Irishman Rory McIlroy in the first round at this event in 2013 before losing to G-Mac (once more a rival here) in the last 16. He’s since lost four of his last six match-play encounters. One bright spot is that he should enjoy a return to California having finished T7 (Farmers Insurance) and T21 (Pebble Beach) in two early-season starts there. He’s since cooled and missed two of his last three cuts.
Group rivals: Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell, Harris English
The Englishman could be a sneaky sleeper here but we’re guessing. His match-play record doesn’t exist as he hasn’t sampled this format as a pro. He certainly has the necessary grit to do well and is coming in off a solid T38 on debut at Augusta National. He also finished T12 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship so has adapted well to his first taste of U.S. conditions but Patrick Reed looks the one to beat in Group 15.
Group rivals: Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Andy Sullivan
Beware the Scotsman. He’s played just three singles matches in this format as a pro and won them all! That 100% record features two Seve Trophy wins (over Gregory Havret and Thorbjorn Olesen) and a 2013 Royal Trophy victory over Ryo Ishikawa. Warren has some decent form in America too this season – a T17 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and a T35 in the Texas Open – although he missed the cut at the Zurich Classic last week. Tough group.
Group rivals: J.B. Holmes, Brooks Koepka, Russell Henley
The young Englishman is another with a 100% record in match-play but that boils down to one victory over Joost Luiten (3&2) in the 2013 Seve Trophy. It didn’t go his way in China last week when he failed to cash but before that he finished third in the Shenzhen International and missed the playoff by a shot. He’d carry more confidence if he wasn’t outside the top 200 in both the European Tour’s putting categories.
Group rivals: Sergio Garcia, Jamie Donaldson, Bernd Wiesberger
This is Sullivan’s tournament debut, first WGC event and, guess what, he hasn’t ever played match-play as a pro. He’s got the sort of bouncy personality to hit the ground running but since winning two recent European Tour events in South Africa he’s lost his way with three missed cuts and a T54.
Group rivals: Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Danny Willett
Levy played three round-robin matches at the 2014 Volvo World Match Play at the London Club and lost them all (v Graeme McDowell, Joost Luiten and eventual winner Mikko Ilonen). In theory, his attacking style and strong putting should be a good fit and he certainly won’t lack confidence having finished third at last week’s Volvo China Open where he was the defending champion. The Frenchman struggled in three recent U.S. starts, crashing out early at Pebble Beach and Bay Hill and finishing T38 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Group rivals: Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na, Joost Luiten
The South African defeated Patrick Reed and Steve Stricker in this event last year before losing to eventual winner Jason Day. He’s taken some other good scalps but his overall singles record in match-play is a losing one (5-7-1). On current form, though, his attractiveness to gamers jumps a few notches as his last two European Tour starts show a home-soil win at the Tshwane Open and a T3 in the Trophee Hassan II. Although he’s up against some big names, Coetzee could be a sneaky pick here.
Group rivals: Jim Furyk, Martin Kaymer, Thongchai Jaidee
A record of one win in six matches at this event doesn’t bode well but the new venue could suit him better. Molinari has some strong match-play form in other tournaments with nine wins against six defeats overall and, of course, he famously halved his match with Tiger Woods at the 2012 Ryder Cup. The Italian is suffering from a wrist injury but seems content to patch it up in order to take his place in this week’s field after benefitting from Tim Clark’s WD.
Group rivals: Adam Scott, Chris Kirk, Paul Casey
The Finn lost his first four match-play contests as a pro but put that form behind him by capturing last year’s Volvo World Match Play title at the London Club after five straight victories over some top-class names – Graeme McDowell, Alexander Levy, Victor Dubuisson, Joost Luiten and Henrik Stenson. He missed the cut at Augusta National but arrives in San Francisco after a decent T18 in the Volvo China Open.
Group rivals: Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood, Matt Every
Miguel Angel Jimenez
The Spaniard, in theory, should be a canny match-play operator with all the smarts to get it done but his singles record in all events is bang on 50% after 21 wins and 21 defeats. In this tournament, he’s slightly on the wrong side of that mark after 11 wins and 12 defeats. The veteran’s best performances were runs to the quarter-finals in 2000 and 2011. Jimenez has experience of Harding Park having finished T41 in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship while his last outing saw him claim T10 at a Champions Tour event the week after his MC at Augusta National.
Group rivals: Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Keegan Bradley
Who’s On The Team?
Everyone loves filling out brackets but there are several ways to play this if you’re attempting to select a line-up for the 10-man European Tour Fantasy game.
Do you pick 10 players from 10 different groups? Do you take no notice of the draw and just pick 10 players who you think will play well even if two or even three are in the same group? Or do you deliberately load up in the same group to guarantee one player gets through.
The first option could lead to the doomsday scenario of all 10 picks crashing out before the last 16 knockout phase so my preference is to take the middle ground and select 10 players I think will shine and so be it if some are in the same group. You may completely disagree but, in this format, there are no real right or wrongs.
As it happens my four main picks for the Euro game don’t meet in the Group phase although two of them – Ian Poulter and Justin Rose – would clash in the last 16 if they did get through. Fine. I’d have someone guaranteed a place in the last eight if that did unfold.
This is my quartet and who they would play…
Patrick Reed (Group 15 – Moore, Willett, Sullivan) v winner of Spieth’s group
Ian Poulter (Group 11 – Walker, Simpson, Woodland) v winner of Rose’s group
Justin Rose (Group 6 – Palmer, Lahiri, Leishman) v winner of Poulter’s group
Graeme McDowell (Group 13 – Fowler, Lowry, English) v winner of Bubba’s group
Poulter, Rose and McDowell get the nod due to their reputation as elite match-play performers but all should like the change in venue too. McDowell and Poulter have already shown they do by finishing T6 and T16 respectively in the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship held at Harding Park.
Reed, who had an astonishing match-play record in college, is certainly vying for star pick and I’d back him to win what would be a fantastic last 16 clash with Ryder Cup teammate Jordan Spieth.
One To Fade
Koepka could be a popular pick in the European Tour Fantasy game but he’s not for me in a group featuring J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley and Marc Warren.