After a fun (if a bit understated) Florida swing, the road to the Masters heats up with the WGC-Dell Match Play this week in Austin, Texas. As with most WGCs, the superstars will be out in force for this week’s event. The match play tournament is always a bit of a fickle one. 

It always seems like it should be incredible, but you rarely get the semifinals or finals you’d like to see with stars all over the board. In fact, underdogs win about 40 percent of the time, according to Justin Ray of Golf Channel, which is to be expected given the small sample size of an 18-hole match. So “anything can happen” will likely trump “we’ll get heavyweights” this week in Austin. Either way, it should be a fun event.

Let’s take a look at this week’s contest.

Event information

What: WGC-Dell Match Play | Where: Austin, Texas | When: Mar. 22-26

Participants and odds

  • Rory McIlroy: 13-2
  • Dustin Johnson: 9-1
  • Jordan Spieth: 10-1
  • Jason Day: 14-1
  • Hideki Matsuyama: 20-1
  • Jon Rahm: 25-1
  • Sergio Garcia: 28-1
  • Tyrrell Hatton: 28-1
  • Justin Thomas: 28-1

Field strength: A

If your field has McIlroy, Spieth, Day and Johnson, you gat an automatic “A,” but this tournament has some holes. It is missing names like Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler. Those golfers are taking time off to prep for the Masters which is the unintentional consequence of having so many big tournaments squeezed together right before the Masters.

A reminder on the format: The 16 pools of four all play one another over the first three days before the player with the best record advances to the round of 16. Here are the 16 pools.

  • Group 1: Dustin Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Martin Kaymer, Webb Simpson 
  • Group 2: Rory McIlroy, Emiliano Grillo, Gary Woodland, Soren Kjeldsen
  • Group 3: Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood, Pat Perez
  • Group 4: Hideki Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Ross Fisher, Jim Furyk
  • Group 5: Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore, Yuta Ikeda, Hideto Tanihara 
  • Group 6: Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, Kevin Na, Chris Wood 
  • Group 7: Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Kevin Chappell, Shane Lowry 
  • Group 8: Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari, Bernd Wiesberger, Thongchai Jaidee 
  • Group 9: Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Kevin Kisner, Jason Dufner 
  • Group 10: Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Jeunghun Wang, Charles Howell III 
  • Group 11: Danny Willett, Russell Knox, Bill Haas, K.T. Kim 
  • Group 12: Paul Casey, Charl Schwartzel, Byeong-Hun An, Joost Luiten 
  • Group 13: Bubba Watson, Thomas Pieters, Scott Piercy, Jhonattan Vegas 
  • Group 14: Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Daniel Berger, Si Woo Kim 
  • Group 15: Branden Grace, Brandt Snedeker, William McGirt, Andy Sullivan 
  • Group 16: Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood, Zach Johnson, Brendan Steele 

Full bracket for the WGC-Match Play Championship

Three stories to watch

1. Three straight for D.J.: Dustin Johnson is looking for his third-straight win before Augusta (and fifth WGC win overall). The last golfer to win three straight times on the PGA Tour was McIlroy back in 2014. The No. 1 overall seed has won this event four times (Tiger Woods has three of them), but Johnson has only advanced past the round of 16 one time (last year). In theory, he should crush at this event, but he has not found the success he has in other tournaments. Still, a win this week would mean he would be the overwhelming favorite at Augusta (if he’s not already).

2. Home(ish) game for Spieth: Jordan Spieth is from (and lives in) Dallas, but he went to college at UT-Austin and clearly adores the vibe in this town. “This is a second home to me,” said Spieth on Monday. “My only other place I’ve actually called home. I love coming back to Austin. It’s just an incredible city. It’s beautiful. It’s active. I feel like it encompasses what I love in a city. It’s probably my favorite city in the world. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of great memories here from going to college here. I assume all you-all really enjoy the places you went to college at. So it’s nice to be able to come back and actually work and play in front of pretty much a hometown crowd here. And there’s five events in the state of Texas now, and it’s really cool for me, personally. And I certainly feel that support out there. So it’s a wonderful week.

Spieth made it to the quarterfinals in 2014 and the round of 16 last year at this course. With the rhythm he’s found in his game, it would be surprising to see him bow out before the round of 16 again this year.

3. Digging deep: According to Ray of GC, there has been a golfer seeded No. 50 or worse make the semifinals each of the last three years. Last year it was Rafael Cabrera-Bello. In 2015 it was Gary Woodland. In 2014 it was Rickie Fowler. Potential Cinderellas this year include Charles Howell III, Jim Furyk and Shane Lowry

Past winners

  • 2016: Jason Day
  • 2015: Rory McIlroy
  • 2014: Jason Day
  • 2013: Matt Kuchar
  • 2012: Hunter Mahan

A big-time list. Day has won two of three but does not come in this week with the best form. Still, he should make it into the round of 16 based on his ball-striking alone. McIlroy has finished fourth, second and first in three of the last five years.

“I think a ruthless streak (helps me),” said McIlroy on Monday. “Selfishness, in a way. And pride. I think that’s -- I’m too proud to be beaten. I won’t let anyone get up on me. I sort of think too much of myself to let anyone do that to me. So that’s why I’ve always enjoyed match play because if you do get yourself into a bit of a dogfight out there, it’s something I’ve always quite enjoyed.”

Let’s look at the picks this week.

Final Four -- Rory McIlroy vs. Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson vs. Louis Oosthuizen are the picks. Oosthuizen has made it to the quarterfinals in the last three years, and Johnson and McIlroy are obviously playing terrific golf. Rahm is the wild card here, but I think he’s going to thrive in this format. He made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur a few years back and has been playing money games with Phil Mickelson. After his showing at the WGC-Mexico Championship, I’m fairly confident in his ability to roll with the big boys of the game. 

Winner -- Jon Rahm is my guy this week. He might actually have some trouble getting out of his own group that includes Sergio Garcia, Kevin Chappell and Shane Lowry, but if he does, he could go on a tear through the round of 16 and into the semifinals. Odds: 25-1

Sleeper -- Jim Furyk has finished fourth and made the quarterfinals in his last two appearances at this event. He’s always a tough out no matter the tournament and has a great number at 150-1. Odds: 150-1