2023 WGC-Dell Match Play PGA Tournament Preview
2023 WGC-DELL MATCH PLAY PGA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW – The 2023 WGC-Dell Match Play on the PGA Tour starts this Wednesday, March 22nd and crowns a champion on Sunday, March 26th. This is the only match play event currently scheduled on the PGA Tour, although many avid golf fans have been clamoring for more match play in significant events.
Fans of match play will have to wait to see more events like this unique, round-robin tournament, because this will be the last match play event for the foreseeable future.
The Austin Country Club has played host to the WGC-Dell since 2016 and the match play format has given rise to some incredible moments. It’s a grueling, par 71 course that measure 7,108 yards (although that can change). Winners in the past have spanned from off-the-tee bombers to precise, short game wizards. Some of the variation is due to the round-robin format, which can play early exit to some of the world’s top golfers.
Casual golf fans are much more familiar with the traditional stroke-play, so it’s important to understand the intricacies of match play. In this article, I will outline the match play format as well as the eccentricities at the Austin County Club.
Later in the week, my Clubhouse Picks co-host, Nate Perry, will discuss what it takes to be successful in match and give out his best picks for the weekend.
Match Play Format
The match play format differs greatly from the traditional stroke-play format of most golf tournaments. Match play begins with the top 64 players in the world and organizes each player into sixteen groups of four.
Golfers play three rounds on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in their groups against each other. Players score one point if they win the hole, 0.5 points if they tie, and zero points if they lose the hole. On Friday, the golfer with the the best score from each group advances to the round of 16 on Saturday.
One we get to Saturday, players compete against each other in more elimination style matches. Golfers play the round of sixteen and the round of eight on Saturday. Sunday plays host to the round of four and the championship round between two golfers.
Depending on the two golfers left on Sunday, the format of match play means we could have some of the most exciting golf between two of the best golfers left on tour or we could be watching two guys of relative obscurity duel for the chance at a tournament win.
While the match play format suggests an inverted organization for a tournament, where all the excitement occurs on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, major PGS Tour stars litter the champion’s circle. This is especially true since the tournament moves to the Austin Country Club in 2016.
The graphic below displays the winners of the WGC-Dell Match Play Tournament since 2017. The tournament moved to Austin Country Club in 2016, when Jason Day took home the championship.
As you can see, some players (Scheffeler, Kisner) excel in match play. Some of this may be due to course, but others still simply love the inherent competition in the format. Match play requires a kind of myopia that players like Kevin Kisner need to win.
Another important note about the field: many of the top 64 players in the world will not be allowed to play in this tournament because of their involvement with the LIV Tour. The PGA Tour has had to expand to the 72 best players in the world and has even given special exemption status to players beyond the initial 72 in order to fill the gaps for this weekend.
The only two players in the top 20 in world rankings who will not play in the 2023 WGC-Dell Match Play tournament are Justin Thomas and Justin Rose.
Austin Country Club
The Austin Country Club originated on November 14, 1899 when Lewis Hancock raised a boatload of financing to build the first private golf club and resort in the state of Texas. The club went through many changes throughout the twentieth century until 1984 when the notorious mad-scientist of laborious courses, Pete Dye, designed the course we know today as the Austin Country Club.
The course is a par 71 that plays 7,108 yards. It has two distinct nine holes that are flipped for the PGA Tour in order to feature the ninth hole as the eighteenth.
The course was renovated in 2016 and the greens were relaid with Poa Travalis overseed. This means that the greens will feature the same seed as both TPC Sawgrass (another Pete Dye course) and Innisbrook. Players who have played the back half of the Florida swing should be comfortable around these greens.
The course has also lost 1,200 trees due to a brutal ice storm that hit Texas in February of this year. There’s no telling how the absence of all those trees will play this weekend.
The Front Nine
Except for holes 12-16 on the back nine, the rest of the course is characterized by the Texas hill country. This is certainly true for the front nine, which feature undulating hills, deep pot bunkers, and tricky greens.
Many golfers who are good off the tee can take advantage of the rolling hills, but make a mistake and it could be costly.
Hole #2: “Earth’s Edge”
While there are a lot of memorable holes on the front nine, the second hole, “Earth’s Edge,” is the most difficult. The second hole starts with a difficult tee shot that faces a massive gorge lined with bushes and scrub.
The gorge is in the direct line of sight for the players off the tee and must be avoided for any chance to save par. Once players clear the gorge, they have to be wary of Deer Creek canyon, which runs up the entire left side of the hole for the entirety of this 470 yard par four.
A par on this hole should feel about the same as solving a Rubik’s cube in under a minute. An absolute triumph.
The Back Nine
While the back nine does feature some of that signature Texas hill country, look for the Texas lowlands to dominate the course play.
These holes run up against the Colorado River and feature a plethora of water. The back nine feature some of the most iconic holes on the course and are set up extremely well for match play.
Hole #12: “Iron Bridge”
The twelfth hole at Austin Country Club is my favorite hole on the course. It features a massive downward slope that allows players to drive the ball over 400 yards, across the cart path, and onto the second fairway.
Players can take aim at the Iron Bridge and let it rip off the tee, but a wayward second or third shot and your beautiful drive is ruined by a swim in the Colorado River. This hole is set up well for match play, because an aggressive player can score an eagle or a double bogey depending on where their approach lands.
As with all Pete Dye courses, precision is key and strategy is important. Don’t bet golfers who love to hit the ball into the water.
Hole #17: “Windy Cove”
The penultimate hole for the 2023 WGC-Dell can be a deceptive play. This short par three can reward the confident player with tap-in birdie after a well struck iron. However, I’ve seen many a man miss on the seventeenth and end up in the cavernous gully.
The wind is always a factor at this hole and so is the flag placement. Watch for “Windy Cove” to ruin some otherwise incredible rounds this weekend.
Hole #18: “Two Chimneys”
The final hole at the Austin Country Club is actually the ninth hole for ACC members, but the PGA Tour utilizes its natural drama to manufacture excitement throughout the weekend.
This is one of the easier holes on the back nine and many players will birdie the eighteenth this weekend. It’s called “Two Chimneys” because of the two chimneys that split the fairway. Players can take aim at either chimney and play the hole from the left or the right.
A strong drive off the tee makes for an easy approach to the green and makable putt for birdie. After a grueling seventeen holes, players rejoice in the eighteenth, where often a birdie won’t be enough to win in match play.