The biggest match play event of the season is on the horizon as the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship begins Wednesday, and golf's biggest stars are ready to tee it up at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco—well, most of them.
Tiger Woods is not coming back until The Players, as expected after an impressive return at the Masters, and Phil Mickelson withdrew as well Sunday due to personal reasons. But fear not, the most talked-about American golfer will be in the fold as world No. 2 Jordan Spieth looks to build off a wondrous start to 2015.
The Match Play Championship offers a fresh changeup from the 72-hole aggregate format featured week in and week out, and a newly designed format this season ensures for better action all around. Let's break it all down below.
The following groups of four will play three round-robin matches Wednesday through Friday, with the best golfers advancing. The group winners will play the winner of the group alongside them in the round of 16—for example, the Group 1 winner will face the Group 16 winner and so on.
|Group 1||Group 16|
|Rory McIlroy (1)||Hideki Matsuyama (16)|
|Billy Horschel (18)||Kevin Na (20)|
|Brandt Snedeker (35)||Joost Luiten (43)|
|Jason Dufner (53)||Alexander Levy (52)|
|Group 2||Group 15|
|Jordan Spieth (2)||Patrick Reed (15)|
|Lee Westwood (26)||Ryan Moore (28)|
|Matt Every (40)||Danny Willett (48)|
|Mikko Ilonen (62)||Andy Sullivan (57)|
|Group 3||Group 14|
|Henrik Stenson (3)||Matt Kuchar (14)|
|Bill Haas (23)||Hunter Mahan (31)|
|Brendon Todd (42)||Stephen Gallacher (41)|
|John Senden (60)||Ben Martin (61)|
|Group 4||Group 13|
|Bubba Watson (4)||Rickie Fowler (13)|
|Louis Oosthuizen (29)||Graeme McDowell (32)|
|Keegan Bradley (33)||Shane Lowry (47)|
|Miguel Jimenez (63)||Harris English (55)|
|Group 5||Group 12|
|Jim Furyk (5)||J.B. Holmes (12)|
|Martin Kaymer (17)||Brooks Koepka (19)|
|Thongchai Jaidee (44)||Russell Henley (45)|
|George Coetzee (59)||Marc Warren (51)|
|Group 6||Group 11|
|Justin Rose (6)||Jimmy Walker (11)|
|Ryan Palmer (22)||Ian Poulter (27)|
|Anirban Lahiri (34)||Webb Simpson (46)|
|Marc Leishman (56)||Gary Woodland (50)|
|Group 7||Group 10|
|Jason Day (7)||Sergio Garcia (10)|
|Zach Johnson (24)||Jamie Donaldson (30)|
|Branden Grace (38)||Bernd Wiesberger (39)|
|Charley Hoffman (49)||Tommy Fleetwood (54)|
|Group 8||Group 9|
|Dustin Johnson (8)||Adam Scott (9)|
|Victor Dubuisson (21)||Chris Kirk (25)|
|Charl Schwartzel (37)||Paul Casey (36)|
|Matt Jones (58)||Francisco Molinari (64)|
Draw information courtesy of the tournament's official site.
A never-before-seen format will be deployed in this weekend's tournament. Unlike previous years, when golfers played in single-elimination contests throughout the tournament, 2015 will draw four golfers into 16 groups. Those four will play each other round-robin style, with one winner from each group advancing to the final 16.
Those winners will face off in a single-elimination bracket beginning Saturday with the round of 16 and quarterfinals, and ending Sunday with the semifinals and championship.
The previous format resembled that of a NCAA men's basketball tournament format. It made for enticing upsets, but it too often removed some of the best players after one round and created less-than-ideal matchups later in the tournament.
With the shake-up this year, the hope is that three rounds will produce the best golfer out of four rather than one 18-hole showdown between two golfers, where anything can happen. It also triples the amount of golf in the opening round, which is great for avid viewers but mundane for those who were intrigued by the high early stakes.
Predictions for Top Golfers
What's lost in all of the noise surrounding Jordan Spieth and his magnificent start to 2015 is that it was practically taken right off the back of Rory McIlroy.
It's easy to forget now that McIlroy entered the year a winner of the last two majors, vying to complete the incredible feat of winning three straight. Now, he looks to regain his momentum little by little as the year goes along.
The Match Play Championship is no major, but the Northern Irishman has everything to play for as he looks to hold off Spieth for the world No. 1 ranking. He told Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail as much: "I know he is going to be working his butt off to take that top spot from me, so it’s up to me to try my hardest to stay in that position."
McIlroy didn't fare so well in last year's event, being knocked out in the second round by Harris English. But the round-robin format won't allow for him to be overtaken early on in the same fashion.
Building off a great finish at the Masters, McIlroy will make a deep run to continue momentum heading into the summer.
McIlroy's predicted finish: semifinal defeat
As one 2015 Masters runner-up announces his exit from the field heading into tournament week, another comes in brimming with confidence and momentum.
Mickelson isn't heading to San Francisco, but Justin Rose is. And he's coming off a birdie-birdie finish of a final-round 66 that won him the Zurich Classic in New Orleans Sunday.
With Spieth putting his foot on the neck of the field at the Masters, Rose proved to be the only golfer that could make him sweat in the final 18 holes. He showed that performance was no fluke this weekend by ripping through the field at 22 strokes under par.
Rose got bounced in the second round as just one of four top seeds in last year's tournament, but there's no chance of that this time around considering his hot streak. He enters the tournament as the No. 6 seed overall, but there's no doubt he wants to prove worthy of a higher ranking based on how he's started the year off.
Two titles in seven days is unheard of, but Rose is hot enough to play his way into the final eight.
Rose's predicted finish: quarterfinal defeat
Immediate talk entering the Match Play Championship surrounding Jason Day will be about how he barely missed a chance for his second win of 2015 at the Zurich Classic. But really, that tournament was only a tuneup to the match play event that Day seems to excel in.
Day took home the 2014 edition by holding off Victor Dubuisson, but perhaps more impressive was how he barreled through Henrik Stenson, Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler and Louis Oosthuizen to get there.
That's far from his only eye-popping performance in match play. He won his only match in the 2013 Presidents Cup and went 5-1 in the 2013 Match Play Championship, practically dominating match play over the last couple of years.
He does hope for less shots like this over the week in San Francisco, as PGA Tour showed:
Although Day does just fine in the standard format, match play can lean toward certain golfers more than others who can alter their game toward different circumstances and play to their opponents' shot, as well as set the tone themselves. Day has shown a mastery of doing that.
He's won 12 of his last 13 match play events, which is absolutely insane considering they have all been against top competition. It's hard to envision him staying hot long enough to take down some peaking golfers in the latter rounds, but you like his chances to at least get there.
Day's predicted finish: semifinal defeat