Inside the Numbers
Of the 16 seeded favorites from Pot 1, gamers selected 12 of them to win their respective pools and move on. Obviously we know who the MOST-selected player was but I’ll let you know that Bernd Wiesberger (52) was the least-selected player in the field. It won’t surprise the sharper gamers that he was the lowest-ranked player in Johnson’s group. More on that pairing in a minute. The most surprising margin was Patrick Reed (19) was selected in almost 20 percent more of the brackets than Jordan Spieth (4). They both won their opening matches.
Bubba Watson (35) was the highest-ranked player selected to advance as he was selected out of Pot 3. … There were two groups, Nos. 2 and 7, where the top two were separated by less than five percent. The most interesting part of the tight race in Group 2 is that No. 54 Zach Johnson was the second choice… In Group 6, Charley Hoffman (22) had the biggest separation of any “underdog” as he was selected in over 24 percent more of the brackets than “favorite” Tyrrell Hatton (12). Hoffman lost his match 1-down while the Englishman cruised 3 and 2 over Alexander Levy (55),
People’s Choice: Dustin Johnson (1)
For 95.25 percent of us, we couldn’t be happier this format changed to pool play in 2015. In the old days, Johnson would be packing his bags and heading home after falling 3 and 1 to Wiesberger and PLENTY of brackets would be busted. The defending champion gets a reprieve, but no guarantee of advancing. That guarantee belongs to the least-selected player from Austria. If he wins his final two matches, he advances regardless of what No. 1 does as he’s beaten him heads-up. This format > the old format!
Living Up to the Hype
Johnson and Kuchar made gamers look smart in Round 1 as they battled to the final hole. Kuchar led 4-up with four to play before Johnson closed with four birdies to halve the match. Yuta Ikeda (47) defeated Ross Fisher (27) in the other match to lead the group with three points. … The tight Group 7 has Tony Finau (29) breathing down the neck of Alex Noren (13). Both players lived up to the hype as well as the Swede handled Kevin Na (61) 4 and 2 while the big-hitting Finau out-slugged Thomas Pieters (39) 2 and 1.
Steamroller: Biggest Win
Gamers knew what they were talking about, at least in the opening match, when they supported Watson. The winner at Riviera last month was seven-under-par on the front nine and was 6-up at the turn. His victim was Branden Grace (23) who played those same nine holes one-under. Watson went on to win 5 and 3 and shares the lead in the group.
Bracket Disrupters: Biggest Upsets
Using the numbers above, there’s no doubt that Johnson qualifies but he’s not alone. McIlroy (6) tried to rescue his match against Peter Uihlein (57) with a late birdie barrage but lost 2 and 1. … Rahm (3) needed to win the final hole against Keegan Bradley (63) to halve their match. Each player claims a point … The last player in the field, Julian Suri (64), defeated Marc Leishman (11) 3 and 2. He shares the group lead with Watson in Group 14. I debated whether to put Suri in the Steamroller section or Bracket Disrupters. The answer was yes on both!
Worry? Who Me?
Fantasy guru and all-around great dude Rob Bolton has let me know that this edition of Match Play is similar to this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament madness. The eventual pool winners over the last three years had 13 first day wins in 2015, 12 in 2016 and 12 in 2017. I’m terrible at math but I can decipher winning on the first day seems to be quite important but isn’t a death sentence. Of those eight players know Johnson was the only player in 2016 to escape pool play after losing the first round.
For those of you who enjoy numbers, Paul Casey (10) picked up his 24th win in this format defeating Russell Henley (51), 1-up. His only lead was the final margin. … Jason Day (8) grabbed his 22nd victory 4 and 2 over James Hahn (56). … Luke List (60) is one of the newbies this week and he got off to an auspicious start. His putter didn’t see the end of the round after getting bent after eight holes. His wedge filled in but he couldn’t catch Justin Thomas (2) on the final hole. Thomas, who won 2-up, is battling strep throat while List will get a new putter tomorrow.