March Madness is in full swing and was on full display at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club. If your bracket had just a single top 20 seed making the weekend and the final 16, then you are either lying or have the 2021 Sports Almanac.
Normally, Ways to Win would focus on strokes gained and how the winners separated themselves from the pack, but match play is different. Match play does not necessarily highlight the player who plays the best over the course of a week, but it is certainly an entertaining way to crown a champion. The Dell Technologies Match Play is unique in that 64 players start the week in pods of three players. The pods battle in one-on-one match play from Wednesday to Friday to determine a single champion per pod. Those 16 champions then make a bracket that battles it out in a single-elimination battle to the finish in match play format.
PGA Tour players are all great, and, on any given day, can go extremely low. The challenge of a traditional stroke play tournament is that the players aren’t typically allowed to have an off day. One poor scoring day can eliminate their chance of winning, as every shot counts. Match play is a little different. Not every shot counts. If you lose a hole by one or by 10, it’s still just a single hole. One down. This typically allows players to play more aggressively, but also it allows players that aren’t on their “A games” to get a lucky match up and still advance. This was particularly apparent in the pod pairings.
A fun exercise is to look at the best score that lost a match as well as the worst score that won a match over the first three days.
Worst Score to Win or Tie a Match
The worst score to not lose a match was +3 and happened in round 2. It was shot by two different players. Will Zalatoris tied Tony Finau shooting three-over and Scottie Scheffler tied Andy Sullivan by also shooting +3. Tony Finau and Sullivan and lower rounds in stroke play, but in match play, it doesn’t matter. The score of +3 was only good enough to beat two players in the entire field that day, but it was good enough for a tie for those two players. Obviously, that tie was particularly valuable for Scheffler who was able to advance from the pods making it all the way to the final.
In match play, how your competitor plays is just as important as how you play. The worst score to actually win a match for the week was +1. Matt Kuchar, JT Poston, Xander Shauffele, and Bubba Watson all won a match with an over-par score. For perspective, of the 192 rounds played in pods, only 36 total rounds were over par. To win a round while shooting over par is extremely lucky. Getting the right match on the right day matters and was a big part of why Kuchar and Watson were able to advance to the weekend.
Best Score to Lose or Tie a Match
Imagine shooting 8 under and losing a match. Brian Harman was -8 on the 17 holes he finished against Patrick Cantlay and lost the match on the final hole. His 8-under would have been enough to beat every other player (except maybe Garcia) on that first day. However, he played Cantlay and lost. Luckily, Harman was still able to play well on the other days and advance to the bracket play, but his opening match results had to be frustrating. Talk about running into a buzzsaw.
There were many matches where -5 was not enough to win the match. Brutal.
Best Score to Lose a Pod
Now, the pod play included three matches, so a player might run into a buzzsaw on a given day, but you still had two other matches and opportunities to advance. However, in some cases, the whole pod might have played well and cost someone an opportunity at bracket play.
The award for “best golf to not advance” goes to Cantlay. He was -14 on the holes he played and got clipped by the play of Harman. That pod shot -53 in total and was the best overall pod by 13 strokes! Cantlay drew the short straw this week. He would have handily won any of the other 15 pods.
Worst Score to Win a Pod
For every loser, there has to be a winner. So, who played the worst golf and still advanced to the weekend? That award goes to Erik van Rooyen and Tommy Fleetwood, who managed to win their pods at just two under par. I hope Patrick Cantlay doesn’t see this!
Honorable mention goes to our two finalists, Scheffler, who won his pod at -3; and Horschel, who won his pod at -5. It’s difficult to argue that our winners played the best golf. It seems more that they drew the best grouping on their path to the championship. Who needs strokes gained?!
In fact, the final match only offered a single birdie and it was a 40-foot chip-in from Horschel. It was not exactly fireworks on the difficult Texas spring day.
Got your own match coming up? V1 Game can help you prepare and improve with its advanced analytics and Strokes Gained stats so you aren’t reliant on an off day to advance. Try the new Friends Mode and you can even play side by side with your buddy to get a full statistical breakdown of each other’s rounds.
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