Handicapping a golf tournament can be a pretty complex process if we allow it to be. Sometimes, it's as simple as trusting your instincts where you think there's value. Sometimes, it's building out a simulation model and accounting for as many stats as you can find.
No matter your process, things are different for the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, a 64-golfer match play event that uses group stages and then single-elimination match play events to crown the winner. Golfers are seeded 1 through 64 based on their Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) entering the event.
Variance is high, and with the match play format, it makes sense. Golfers aren't given 36 holes to make a cut or 72 holes to prove they're the best that week.
Instead, it's 18 holes to prove you're better than the guy you're facing off against that day.
And as we've seen over the years, anyone can beat anyone.
So, while we have to account for a wide range of outcomes, we can at least look to history to see what we might expect this week at Austin Country Club.
Since the tournament moved to Austin Country Club in 2015, we have seen a wide range of seeds from the winners and runners-up. (Note: there was no event held in 2020.)
|Year||Winner (Seed)||Runner-Up (Seed)|
|2021||Billy Horschel (32)||Scottie Scheffler (30)|
|2019||Kevin Kisner (48)||Matt Kuchar (23)|
|2018||Bubba Watson (35)||Kevin Kisner (32)|
|2017||Dustin Johnson (1)||Jon Rahm (21)|
|2016||Jason Day (2)||Louis Oosthuizen (16)|
|2015||Rory McIlroy (1)||Gary Woodland (50)|
So, the winners have either been a 1 or 2 seed or outside the top 30. Runners-up have ranked, generally, in the middle.
While the OWGR has its issues, the world's best golfers are usually ranked as such, so this is telling with regards to how volatile this event can be.
I'm not going to list out the historical performance (since the 2015 move to Austin, Texas) for every seed because that's overkill and because it's silly to think that such a granular look will yield good results.
I will note that there is a mild correlation between seed and group stage points (-0.36, meaning the closer the seed to 1, the more average groups stage points were earned), but it's honestly not as high as you'd probably expect if the true best players won out here often.
What will show is that I bucketed golfers into tiers of eight (in terms of seed) to see how they have fared historically. Here are each tier's average group stage points (1 point for a win, 0 points for a loss, and 0.5 points for a halved match) and their frequency of advancing to the given stage.
|SeedTier||Avg.GroupStagePoints||% toRoundof 16||% toRoundof 8||% toRoundof 4||%Finalist|
|1 to 8||1.60||15%||20%||25%||20%|
|9 to 16||1.79||15%||10%||10%||10%|
|17 to 24||1.68||11%||13%||10%||20%|
|25 to 32||1.50||14%||15%||20%||30%|
|33 to 40||1.25||8%||5%||5%||10%|
|41 to 48||1.46||14%||15%||10%||10%|
|49 to 56||1.39||13%||15%||20%||0%|
|57 to 64||1.34||11%||8%||0%||0%|
It's pretty flat overall, and it does indicate a more top-heavy probability for finalists. We should expect that while being open to variance.
This also tracks if you just look at how each golfer ranks in their four-golfer group stage group (i.e. the 10 seed is the top-ranked seed in Group 10 followed by the 23 seed, 42 seed, and 54 seed, in order).
|GroupSeedRank||Avg.GroupStagePoints||% toRoundof 16||% toRoundof 8||% toRoundof 4||%Finalist|
The top-seeded golfer in each group, on average, leads in group stage points and odds of reaching the final eight and final four. The lowest-seeded golfer in a group is yet to reach the finals in Austin -- but has actually reached the final four at a higher rate than golfers ranked third in their group.
What It All Means
Though there's some chaos ready to ensue, that doesn't mean selecting the total long shots (those ranked 49th or lower).
Also, while it's been three events since a dominant seed won this, it's not like it never happens. In 22 events since 1999, 11 winners were a 10 seed or better. It's probably easy to argue that golf now has more parity, sure, but what this boils down to:
- Consider long shots to advance from their groups (the lowest seed has done so in 24% of groups since 2015)
- Target the second tier (golfers ranked 17th to 32nd still fare well here)
- Have fun: it's a fun format that is hard to perfect; embrace the volatility
Bets I Like
Matt Fitzpatrick (+3300 on FanDuel Sportsbook) - Fitzpatrick fits firmly in the second tier of golfers who historically fare well at this format, and he ranks 8th in adjusted strokes gained in my database over the past six months (with recency and field strength adjustments) but can be found at a mid-level number at +3300. He is yet to advance out of the group stage in five tries but is much better now than then and was 2-1-0 last year.
Daniel Berger (+2700) - Berger will be a bit underseeded. He's 21st in the OWGR but is 3rd in my adjusted strokes gained stat over the past six months. He's historically struggled at the Match Play (3-9-0 in four years), but I'm not sure that's necessarily predictive of anything.
Alexander Noren (+5000) - Noren is 31st in my strokes gained stat over the past half year, and his OWGR rank and tournament seed just don't reflect that yet. He has made five straight cuts and has finished, most recently, T5 at The Honda Classic, T26 at THE PLAYERS, and T12 at the Valspar. He also has finished fifth and third here in the past and is overall 8-1-0 in the group stage.
Tom Hoge (+8000) - We've learned from Jordan Spieth that Hoge won't back down when he's contending, and with an overall upward trajectory for Hoge, I'm good with the odds here at 80/1 for a longshot. He's a bit of an outlier at +8000 given his seed (34th).
I'll update this with more group stage picks once odds are released.