Are you mad that Kentucky, the basketball star child of the SEC, was upset by a #15 seed? Did it wreck your pool entry when a hot Tennessee team fell to a lower-seeded B1G team? Were you one of those lamenting the lowly Fightin’ Irish whoopin’ on the favored Crimson Tide? Surely you kicked your cat watching a former #1 ranked Auburn get dismantled by a double-digit Miami team?
Yeah, me neither.
But if you’re tired of looking at your NCAA tournament ledger dripping in red, and want to see some Red & Black in the bracket-busting business, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to professional golf’s answer to March Madness. (Golf didn’t need an answer to March Madness, but they do need more match play events. So I’m sure this seemed like a logical time to put it on the calendar.)
Tournament: World Golf Championships - Dell Technologies Match Play, March 23-27, 2022
Course: Austin Country Club, par 71, 7,108 yards. Yes, in Austin, TX.
Purse: $12 million in total, $2.1 million to the winner. But even the last place finisher (#64), as long as you tee it up in the first round, is guaranteed $40,000.
Defending Champ: Former Gator, and erstwhile UF golf coach Billy Horschel. He was fortunate, as many top seeds were eliminated earlier, and his path to the title wasn’t as daunting (on paper) as other years. Brian Harman did make the quarterfinals.
Fun Fact: This is one of only a couple of PGA tournaments that have multiple winners coming out of the Classic City. Bubba Watson ran roughshod through his matches in 2018, beating Justin Thomas (#2 in the world at that time) in the semifinals, and letting fellow Bulldog Kevin Kisner beat himself in the finals. But the Kiz redeemed himself the very next year, showing gritty determination as the 48 seed, and ultimately defeating Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Matt Kuchar in the finals.
TV Times: Wednesday-Friday, 2 p.m.-8 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Golf Channel), 2 p.m.-6 p.m. (NBC). Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3 p.m.-7 p.m. (NBC)
‘Dawgs in the Field: 5. Sepp Straka, Keith Mitchell, Kevin Kisner, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, and Bubba Watson.
Yep, it’s the rare Wednesday start and the rare 5 day event. Which will make sense as I lay out the format. The top 64 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are invited, but as injuries or other things cause withdrawals or declinations, the top 64 OWGR players that accept and enter are then seeded according to their world ranking.
Each of the top 16 are separated into a separate group, then the 17-32 seeds are quasi reverse-seeded into the groups, then the next 16 players, and finally the last 16. So #1 doesn’t get #64, nor #32. I’m sure there’s an algorithm somewhere to explain it. Just know that each group of 4 players is a mix of world rankings, and purportedly mixed fairly.
The players in each group will face one another Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in round-robin group play. The player with the best record from each group advances to the round of 16, where group #1 winner plays group #16 winner (#2 vs. #15 etc.). These occur on Saturday morning. The “elite eight” (winners from Saturday morning) face each other Saturday afternoon, leaving a “final four” also known as semi-finalists. The semi-finals are held Sunday morning, leaving the finals (and a consolation match) to Sunday afternoon.
That is a lot of golf. So if you’re going to win, or lose, do it early. And match play gives you that option to end the match short of 18 holes (if you need more of an explanation, hit me up in the comments). It has also given us finals were one of the competitors hasn’t played the 18th hole all week.
I’ll now give out the Bulldogs in their group, along with each players tournament seed:
Group 3: Viktor Hovland (3), Will Zalatoris (24), Cameron Tringale (45), Sepp Straka (63).
Group 4: Patrick Cantlay (4), Sungjae Im (21), Seamus Power (42), Keith Mitchell (62).
Group 6: Justin Thomas (6), Kevin Kisner (29), Marc Leishman (37), Luke List (53).
Group 14: Joaquin Niemann (14), Kevin Na (25), Russell Henley (34), Maverick McNealy (64).
Group 15: Abraham Ancer (15), Webb Simpson (31), Brian Harman (44), Bubba Watson (57).
A few things of note: none of the ‘Dawgs are the top seed in their group, so all are technically underdogs (Vegas has odds if you’re into that). Which is the reason for the article title. The good news is that only one group pits UGA products against one another - group 15 where Harman and Bubba, both lefties, will face off Friday.
It’s hard to say who has the toughest group. Straka has the #3 player in the world, Hovland, to overcome. Mitchell has a very tough out in Cantlay, and a pretty hot Irishman in Power. Kisner and Thomas are actually decent friends, but Thomas is really trending of late, plus the Aussie Leishman who hasn’t lost a singles match in the President’s Cup. Henley faces recent winner Niemann, recent father (his 3rd? 4th?) Kevin Na, and a maturing McNealy. Harman and Bubba have each other, the very steady Ancer, and Simpson who is returning to form after an injury.
I doubt I’ll watch much basketball this weekend. I had my fill having sat through the UNC-Baylor fiasco with a UNC grad. As you can tell from the TV schedule above, there’s 6-8 hours of golf on for the next five days. That should do nicely, and is some good scouting for the Masters in two weeks. Enjoy whatever you’ve got going on, and as always...