In March of 1999 the first World Golf Championship event was played in Carlsbad in California when the then Accenture Match Play was played at La Costa Resort and Spa.
While the intent of the introduction of the World Golf Championships was clear, namely to bring the elite of the game worldwide together on a more regular basis, very few would have seen the success the concept has become and the internationalisation of the game that has resulted.
The result that very first year was perhaps a promoters nightmare with Jeff Maggert and Andrew Magee fighting out an admittedly close final (38 holes) but hardly one that stimulated the golfing public.
Tiger Woods was defeated in the quarter-finals that week, defeated by Maggert at that stage leaving the much-hyped event with a flat feeling come the final.
Much has changed since that time however with so many of the game’s best having won the event, including Tiger Woods on three occasions, and the format having changed to include a round robin component in more recent times on the opening three days.
To a large extent, however, is that so many internationals have been able to experience the PGA Tour and to compete against the world’s best thus allowing them access to the big time and take their games and careers to a new level. Mission accomplished therefore in terms of the World Golf Championship’s initial goals.
This year’s event, the Dell Technologies Match Play, is played at the Peter Dye designed Austin Country Club in Austin in Texas, the venue being used for the third occasion after Dustin Johnson’s victory last year and Jason day’s win in 2016
Sixteen groups of four players will face off against each other in the Round Robin phase before the leading player from each group advances to the round of 16 on Saturday morning and onwards to the final on Sunday afternoon.
Those groups are each headed by the 16 leading ranked players the balance of each group made up of randomly selected players one from each of three pools of varying world ranking positions.
The winner’s purse has also changed, this year’s champion taking home US$1.7 million of the total purse of US$10 million.
The three seeded players missing from the field wjo would have otherwise led groups are Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson, Rose and Stenson in particular in very good form at present. Rose feels the event does not offer the sort of feedback he needs ahead of The Masters, Stenson not a fan of the Round Robin format and Koepka out with injury issues.
With the re-emergence of Woods and McIlroy in recent weeks the game’s leading players at present Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and John Rahm have slipped a little in terms of their profile but all three are playing well enough in recent weeks for a win here to be very much on the cards.
Johnson has only made it into the round of 16 just three times in eight starts but is in fine form and having won the event at this venue last year his chances look good.
Thomas has struggled in this event in his two appearances but there is little doubting just how good he is and he is more then capable of turning that record around.
Rahm was beaten in last year’s final by Johnson and has played well enough of late to suggest he could go one better this year. He might not be quite at the peak he was earlier in the year, but he is still playing well and appears a good chance.
Paul Casey is a proven match player with several good finishes in this event and a win at the World Match Play earlier in his career.
Now that Rory McIlroy has found form he is expected to be a force to be reckoned with this week. He has won this event previously and been runner-up.
Australians in the field are Jason Day, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith. Adam Scott was eligible for the event but has decided not to play.
Day is a two time winner in very good form in 2018, Leishman has made it to the round of 16 on two occasions and did finish 7th at Bay Hill last week while Smith gets his chance in the event for the first time.