March 22, 2016 - 10:56am
mark.aumann's picture
USA Today Sports Images
Long hitters J.B. Watson and Bubba Watson are paired in the same group.

The world's top professionals switch from stroke play to head-to-head competition this week, beginning Wednesday at Austin Country Club in the Dell Match Play Championships. It's the only match play event on the PGA Tour schedule -- and a great preview of what we might see at the 2016 Ryder Cup, coming up in September at Hazeltine National.

Instead of the original 64-player knockout format, the Dell Match Play is a three-day, 16-group round-robin, with the overall group winners moving into a 16-man showdown over the weekend. It's more like soccer's World Cup than March Madness, but the idea is the same: survive and advance.

The players were sorted into one of four groups by world ranking, and placed in their four-man groups by a random draw held Monday night at Austin's Paramount Theater.

Rory McIlroy is the defending champion after beating Gary Woodland 4&2 at San Francisco's Harding Park last spring. Other recent winners include Jason Day (2014) and Matt Kuchar (2013).

Click here for a printable copy of the Dell Match Play bracket (.pdf)

Here are five groups to keep a close eye on this week (world ranking in parentheses):

Group 1
Jordan Spieth (1); Justin Thomas (31); Victor Dubuisson (39); Jamie Donaldson (51)

Reason to watch: Longtime friends Spieth and Thomas played a practice round together Monday, just hours before they were grouped together by the random draw. They've been playing against each other for almost a decade, so there shouldn't be any secrets there. Then there's Dubuisson, the mercurial Frenchman who pushed Jason Day to 23 holes in the 2014 final. And Jamie Donaldson, whose match play resume includes knocking the winning shot stiff in the 2014 Ryder Cup. The winner of this group plays the survivor from Louis Oosthuizen's group in the round of 16.

Group 2
Jason Day (2); Paul Casey (23); Thongchai Jaidee (36); Graeme McDowell (62)

Reason to watch: Coming off a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, you'd think Day would catch a break here. Not even close. The ping-pong balls were very unkind to the 2015 PGA Champion. Casey has the most career victories in this event -- 20 -- of anyone playing this year, and has runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010. McDowell is outstanding at match play. And Jaidee has won four times in this event. And whomever survives could run into red-hot Charl Schwartzel in the round of 16.

Group 4
Bubba Watson (4); J.B. Holmes (21); Emiliano Grillo (33); Patton Kizzire (63)

Reason to watch: If you love to watch them hit it long, this is your group. Watson and Holmes are two of the longest hitters on the Tour. But don't sleep on Grillo. He's not only 60th in driving distance this season, but eighth in accuracy. And Kizzire might not be as long as those three off the tee, but he's amazing with the putter. Kizzire's fourth in strokes gained putting, and while you drive for show, in match play you truly do putt for dough.

Group 9
Patrick Reed (9); Phil Mickelson (17); Matthew Fitzpatrick (42); Daniel Berger (53)

Reason to watch: Call this group the "Old Man and the Three." Mickelson has 16 career Match Play wins, but he'll be pushed hard by three 20-somethings. Reed has the perfect temperament for match play, as shown by his 2014 Ryder Cup results. Young Englishman Fitzpatrick is making his first Match Play appearance, but he's battle-tested when it comes to head-to-head play. And Berger is the wild card. The winner of this group gets a huge test from Dustin Johnson/Jimmy Walker/Kiradech Aphibarnrat/Robert Streb in the next round.

Group 14
Zach Johnson (14); Shane Lowry (24); Martin Kaymer (44); Marcus Fraser (60)

Reason to watch: All four have played very well this winter, so it's a matter of keeping that momentum going. Johnson just finished fifth at Bay Hill. Lowry's made six consecutive cuts this season. Kaymer, the 2011 runner-up, lost his Tour card for this season but had a top-10 finish in Dubai in November. And Fraser, perhaps the least-known of this group, won the European Tour's Maybank Championship in Malaysia. Rory McIlroy's group awaits the winner. 

5 groups to watch at the Dell Match Play
Wesley Bryan
Callaway Golf via Twitter
Wesley Bryan won the Chitimacha Louisiana Open in only his third start on the Web.com Tour.
 
Wesley Bryan, a 25-year-old former University of South Carolina player, won the Chitimacha Louisiana Open on Sunday. The win came in just his third start on the Web.com Tour after he played his way onto the circuit via Q-School in December.
 
If that name sounds familiar to you, it's because Bryan is one half of the Bryan brothers – he and brother George are among the absolute best golf trick-shot artists we've ever seen. And, coincidentally, George served as Wes' caddie this week.
 
We've showcased a ton of their trick shots on PGA.com over the last few years, and this victory proves that Wes can play winning golf as well as entertaining golf. So, just for fun, here are a couple links to the Bryan brothers in action, and a few more at the bottom of this post:
 
 
"My wife and I have been praying for a win for a long time on any level and for the top 25 on the money list every night before we go to bed," Bryan said after his victory. "This makes it a lot easier. The ultimate goal is the PGA Tour."
 
Bryan closed with a 3-under 68 for a one-stroke victory, finishing at 14-under 270 on a cool, windy day at Le Triomphe Country Club in Broussard, La.
 
Argentina's Julian Etulain was second after a 70. Martin Flores (70), Jonathan Byrd (71), Ryan Brehm (71) and Joel Dahmen (71) tied for third at 11 under.
 
Greg Chalmers had a one-stroke lead with seven holes to play, but had two bogeys and double bogey to drop back. The Australian finished with a 73 to tie for seventh at 10 under.
 
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
 
 
 
 
Trick-shot artist Wesley Bryan wins Web.com Tour's Louisiana Open
Jason Day
PGA Tour via YouTube
Jason Day made up for a short tee shot with a perfect pitch on the par-3 second hole in the final round at Bay Hill.
 
This is a fairly amazing stat: The last three times that Jason Day has held or shared the 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, he has gone on to win. That is what you call closing the deal.
 
He started today's final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with the lead, looking to stretch his streak to four in a row. Can he pull it off? If his play on the par-3 second hole is any indication, he sure can.
 
 
The hole is playing a long 213 yards today, and Day's tee shot came up about 20 yards short of the raised green. No so good, right? Then he hit the pitch shot you can see below – right into the cup.
 
Day has struggled so far today, and that's not good since overnight rain really softened up the course and many of his competitors are going low. But if he can right the ship, this pitch-in might prove to be very crucial. 
 
 
 
Jason Day pitches in for birdie in final round of Arnold Palmer Invit'l
PGA Tour/Twitter
Rory McIlroy acknowledges the crowd Sunday after his 59-foot birdie putt on the final hole.

The Masters is just three weeks away and Rory McIlroy put on a show Sunday worthy of a green jacket-winning trip around Augusta National.

He shot 65 at Bay Hill, including this outstanding 59-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Onions.

 

And to cap the day off, McIlroy had an opportunity to thank Arnold Palmer in person for the week, as posted on Twitter.

 

 

 

Before you toss around McIlroy's name as the Masters favorite, there is a caveat. He made six double-bogeys at the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week and posted rollercoaster rounds of 75, 67, 75 and 65. That meant a finish well down in the standings, and not the kind of consistency you'd like to see in one of his final tuneups before the azaleas begin blooming.

So flashes of brilliance coupled with flashes of frustration for the Northern Irishman, who would love nothing more than to add a green jacket to his collection of golf trophies. But he has a lot of company in that regard.

 

 

WATCH: Rory McIlroy caps final-round 65 with 59-foot birdie putt
March 18, 2016 - 11:18am
Melissa.Blanton's picture
Jason Day
Jason Day remains at the top of the Arnold Palmer Invitational leader board.

In case anyone was wondering if Jason Day's putting would continue its lights-out form, he cleared things up rather quickly.

Thursday's round included a one-putt barrage on his last 7 holes.

And Hhe took the overnight lead with his 6-under 66.

Friday? Things like this happened.

 

 

 

 

 

The birdie that would take him to 9-under for the tournament.

Also, it's not just the putting game that's strong this week.

His short game is also on fire. Check out this approach shot on the third.

 

He finished up Friday with this birdie for a round of 65 and the lead at 13-under.

 

 

We could watch those all day.

HEAT'S ON: Day takes lead with one-putt streak

Day's putting prowess continues
Jordan Spieth's bracket
Jordan Spieth via Twitter
Who would be Kansas' opponent in the NCAA final game? Jordan Spieth forgot to pick a winner in one of the national semifinal games.
 
Like the rest of us, Jordan Spieth has college hoops on the brain today. He even filled out a bracket and shared it on Twitter, with the caption "Bring it on.. #bold.
 
But oops – the world No. 1 forgot something. He didn't pick a winner of one of the semifinal games.
 
Maybe it doesn't matter – he clearly is going with Kansas to win the whole thing. But we figure that's really just an oversight – and perhaps one that he might've avoided had caddie Michael Greller been looking over his shoulder like he does in a hilarious new SportsCenter commercial that you can see down below.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Something's missing from Jordan Spieth's March Madness bracket