First round group by group analysis of the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play

The world’s elite have travelled to Texas for the second World Golf Championship event of 2021.

After a gap of two years it's time again for the best players in the world (only five of the top 64 sent their apologies) to reconvene at Austin Country Club for the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play.

It will be a fifth visit for the tournament to the Texan capital and the Pete Dye-designed course has proved popular, if not maybe the birdie-fest we usually associate with the head-to-head form of the game.

Set on the Colorado River, it sweeps between, across, up, and down a series of valleys and ravines.

It's visually attractive, complete with the arresting backdrop of Austin's famous Pennybacker Bridge, and has so far produced four very distinct winners.

Jason Day claimed the first event there, his second triumph in the event, and testament to his fine short game.

Dustin Johnson's class and wedge game succeeded him before the creativity of Bubba Watson prevailed in 2018.

If that trio all had length in their favour, that could not be said of the man Watson defeated in the final and who also went one better in 2019 - Kevin Kisner.

A tough little cookie who relishes the cut and thrust of match play Kisner is short from the tee, but explained the fast-running nature of the fairways helped him out.

Enough of the track, let's take a closer look at the field.

They have been drawn into 16 groups and will play one match a day from Wednesday, with the group winners progressing to the weekend knockout stages.

Group 1

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is clear favourite to progress against Adam Long, Kevin Na and Robert MacIntyre. He's a past winner on the course, but hasn't reached the weekend in the last two editions. MacIntyre is also in bullish mood saying: "I can't wait for this. This is just right down my alley. Anything can happen. There's no plan, just be aggressive, play my golf and see how it ends up when the match is done. When someone tells me to stop playing, I'll stop playing!"

Group 2

The Group of Death with recent PLAYERS winner Justin Thomas, defending champion Kevin Kisner, the man he beat in the final Matt Kuchar and Louis Oosthuizen. Thomas has made the semi-final here, but three times failed to make the weekend, Kuchar is in terrible form, and is the law of averages about to catch up with Kisner (who's 14-5-1 at the course)? Oosthuizen has the second best record at Austin (13-6-0) and is a past runner-up in the event. The South African is 11/4 to win the group with Paddy Power.

Group 3

Jon Rahm has a great draw.
Jon Rahm has a great draw.

A great draw for Jon Rahm, semi-finalist here on debut in 2017. He's up against his friend Ryan Palmer (they won the New Orleans Zurich Classic together), event rookie Sebastian Munoz and Shane Lowry whose matchplay record as a professional is a dismal 6-13-3. There's no given in this format, but Rahm should be licking his lips. He's 10/11 to win the group with Paddy Power.

Group 4

A wide-open section with tournament rookies Collin Morikawa, Max Homa and JT Poston drawn against Billy Horschel (5-5-1 in matchplay). Morikawa won the first WGC event of the year last month in Florida and his imperious iron play ought to heap pressure on his opponents. Homa may be a sneaky one however. He earned a decent reputation in head-to-heads at amateur level.

Group 5

Bryson DeChambeau casts a shadow over his group.
Bryson DeChambeau casts a shadow over his group.

A fascinating bunch here. 2018 Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood, Pete Dye specialist Si Woo Kim and recent two-time winner Antoine Rozner take on top seed Bryson DeChambeau. The American has a terrible match play record (1-3-1), but that all came before he beefed up and started hitting balls the length of the Lone Star State. How that impacts on his opponents this week is surely the first round's most delicious prospect, as is his approach to a course with five par-4s below 400 yards. It's pure David vs Goliath.

Group 6

After 16 consecutive top 25 finishes Xander Schauffele has gone two starts without one. Problem or blip? A change in format might help, but it might also be a hindrance. Good luck working it out. He's up against Scottie Scheffler, Andy Sullivan and Jason Day. The latter's two wins in this championship must bolster the confidence, but the Aussie is also fragile in that department.

Group 7

Tournament first timers Joaquin Niemann and Christiaan Bezuidenhout are both rising in the game and they take on American match play specialists Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson. Are the latter two vulnerable? Reed is yet to make the last eight at Austin and Watson, although a past winner here, is not in very good form (no top 20 since October). It looks open, but a tough one to call.

Group 8

In-form Lee Westwood takes on fellow Europeans.
In-form Lee Westwood takes on fellow Europeans.

The European Group. Old muckers Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, who've both played some fine golf in recent weeks, the Englishman especially, are joined by hot-head Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Wallace. The latter will surely be desperate to use this week as an opportunity to let Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington know what he can do. Whether that backfires or fuels success is another question. A very trappy quartet.

Group 9

Like Rahm, his Ryder Cup team-mate Paul Casey might not admit to it, but he has to be licking his lips at this draw. He's up against top seed Webb Simpson, whose Austin record is 1-6-2, and event first starters Mackenzie Hughes and Talor Gooch. Casey is a two-time runner-up in the event, has also won the old Wentworth World Match Play, and hasn't finished outside the top 12 in 2021. He might not win this group, but boy is it a great opportunity to make the weekend. Casey is 6/4 to win the group with Paddy Power.

Group 10

Another good draw for one player and this time it is Patrick Cantlay. He's 3-2-1 on the course, but a much better player than he was in previous visits. He's up against Hideki Matsuyama (4-6-2 on the course), debutant Carlos Ortiz and Brian Harman (2-1-1 in his only previous tournament start). Harman - small, tough, in a bit of form - has a touch of Kisner about him, but Cantlay will know this should be his and is 5/4 to win the group with Paddy Power.

Group 11

Rory McIlroy is out of sorts.
Rory McIlroy is out of sorts.

If Group 2 is the toughest and Group 5 offers the best prospect of three days of fun, this group has the Wednesday highlight: top seed Rory McIlroy vs Ian Poulter. It's the Northern Irishman, out of form and out of sorts, but also newly announced as working with top swing coach Pete Cowan, against a Ryder Cup team-mate who will thrive on the chance to pounce. Cameron Smith and Lanto Griffin will carry the posies. Poulter is 7/4 to beat McIlroy on Wednesday with Paddy Power.

Group 12

It's been the case in the past that a player who really ought to have won many, many times in stroke play finally gets the job done when the format is tweaked. If that notion fits any man in the field, it is top seed, and 2021 three-time runner-up, Tony Finau. He's 3-3-0 here, though, and has a tricky draw. He's up against tough nut Jason Kokrak, young hot shot Will Zalatoris and home boy Dylan Frittelli. The latter is a South African but he lives in Austin and very much digs the hipster vibe.

Group 13

Viktor Hovland makes his event bow and his success on blustery courses with grainy greens south of the border is a nice fit with where Kisner and Kuchar (the last finalists) also thrive. He faces Abraham Ancer, Bernd Wiesberger and Kevin Streelman.

Group 14

Top seed Daniel Berger has a rank record in match play, he really does: 2-8. He's up against Brendon Todd, Erik Van Rooyen and dark horse Harris English. The latter had to drop out of THE PLAYERS, but he's another who plays well where Kisner and Kuchar do, and he has a sneaky match play record (4-2) that includes wins over Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy. English is 11/4 to win the group with Paddy Power.

Group 15

Jordan Spieth has rediscovered his mojo this year.
Jordan Spieth has rediscovered his mojo this year.

Top seed Matthew Fitzpatrick is a mere 8-11-1 in match play whilst Matthew Wolff is in poor form. That leaves a revived Jordan Spieth whose match play record is a slightly underwhelming 12-12-2 and Corey Conners. The Canadian could spring a surprise. He's new to the event, but has finished third and seventh in his last two starts and is a past winner in Texas. He's 3/1 to win the group with Paddy Power.

Group 16

Top seed Sungjae Im played well defending his Honda Open title last week and he's in an open section with up and coming Frenchman Victor Perez, Aussie Marc Leishman and Russell Henley. A tough call.

READ MORE: Head-to-head records: The leading contenders at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play

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