What to watch for this week

If you had Kansas, Arizona, Marquette or Purdue in the Final Four and have already lost interest in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the PGA Tour is offering another bracket to keep you occupied this week.

The final iteration of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play is being played at Austin Country Club from Wednesday to Sunday. The bracket consists of 64 players in 16 pods of four competing in round-robin group play. Players will get one point for winning a match and a half-point for ties. The player with the most points from each group will advance to knockout matches on Saturday and Sunday.

With the PGA Tour moving to a designated-event schedule format in 2024, this week will be the last time, seemingly at least for the next couple of years, that a match-play event will be part of the regular season. It’s probably the last time a tournament will have the World Golf Championship label as well. The limited-field, no-cut events have been around since 1999.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan confirmed at the Players that a match-play event wouldn’t be on the 2024 schedule; it is being replaced that week by a tournament in Houston). The WGC-HSBC Champions in China was canceled each of the past three years because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, and Monahan said, “It’s difficult to foresee when we would play.”

Defending champion Scottie Scheffler, who grew up in Dallas and played at the University of Texas, called the event his favorite of the season.

“I love match play,” Scheffler told reporters in Austin on Tuesday. “I like the simplicity of it. All you have to do is just go out there and try and beat the guy that’s in front of you and if you don’t, you lose, and if you beat him, you win. So the simplicity of it is what I enjoy.”

The match play field includes 27 of the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup points list and 42 of the top 50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa and Xander Schauffele are among the top seeds.

Scheffler will have to get past Tom Kim, Alex Noren and Davis Riley to advance to single-elimination. Rahm’s group includes Billy Horschel, who defeated Scheffler 2 & 1 in the championship match to win in 2021, Keith Mitchell and Rickie Fowler.

“I would love to see there still be a match-play event at some point,” Fowler said. “It’s just a unique form of play compared to what we normally do. We obviously wouldn’t want it every week, just because of how volatile it is, and it’s not always the guy that’s playing the best that week. You can hit someone that gets hot for that day and knocks that person out. But I love match play. I would love to see a form of it in the future on the Tour.”

Here’s what else to watch in men’s professional golf this week:

McIlroy changing equipment

Aside from a tie for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy’s start to 2023 has been pretty so-so by his standards. After missing the cut at the Players in his last start, he said his role in reshaping the tour has taken a toll on his game. McIlroy has become the face of the PGA Tour, but said he’d “love to get back to being a golfer.”

The PGA Tour planned to limit his media availability in Austin this week.

McIlroy also hinted at some equipment changes. He wasn’t happy with how he was hitting his new TaylorMade driver and his putting has been well below form.

McIlroy, who is ranked No. 3 in the world, needed 60 putts in two rounds at the Players and lost more than 3 strokes to the field in putting. He led the field in driving distance at 305.2 yards but was tied for 117th in driving accuracy, hitting only 13 of 28 fairways at the Stadium Course. He ranks 173rd on tour in strokes gained: putting (-.429).

On Tuesday, the Golf Channel reported that McIlroy is keeping the same driver, but has cut the shaft from 44 ½ inches to 44. He also was practicing with a Scotty Cameron Newport putter, a replica of the one he used to win his first two majors.

Fowler’s Masters push

With six top-25 finishes in 10 starts on tour this season, Fowler has moved to No. 59 in the OWGR, his highest position since he was 56th in January 2021. Fowler has two more chances to win to earn a Masters invitation. He’s scheduled to play in next week’s Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio as well, although he might reevaluate that start if he plays well in Austin.

The top 50 in the OWRG after this week will also qualify for the Masters. According to Nosferatu, an OWGR guru on Twitter, Fowler needs to at least make the quarterfinals in Austin to have a chance at breaking into the top 50. That would require him surviving group play and winning one more match.

Fowler is playing in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play for the first time since finishing 38th in 2016.

“I knew I needed to come here and play well,” Fowler said. “I wasn’t sure of exactly what I needed to do. The nice thing with the kind of world ranking, anything I do that puts points on the board is only going to move me up from here moving forward. My short-term goal is to obviously get myself back in Augusta. If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to continue to move forward and be in a good position.”

Other players outside the top 50 who don’t have Masters invitations and are playing in Austin include Lucas Herbert (must reach the round of 16), Taylor Montgomery (quarterfinals), Denny McCarthy (quarterfinals), Victor Perez (semifinals), Adam Hadwin (semifinals), Davis Riley (semifinals) and Nick Taylor (semifinals).

Scheffler’s scouting trip

Scheffler celebrated his Players victory by taking a scouting trip to Augusta National Golf Club, where he’ll try to defend his Masters title on April 6-9. Scheffler played practice rounds with his father, Scott, and swing coach, Randy Smith.

“When we went to Augusta last week, that was really one of the first times where winning the Masters felt real,” Scheffler said Tuesday. “Because we got back on property I’d just come off the win at the Players, so our celebration kind of was just going to play Augusta. That was really one of the first times where it felt real that I had won the Masters.”

Scheffler has repeatedly been asked about hosting the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night of Masters week. The guests will include past Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Charl Schwartzel, who are playing on the rival LIV Golf League.

“When it comes to Tuesday night and being there in that dinner and talking to everybody else who has won that tournament in the past, it will be pretty special,” Scheffler said. “It will definitely be emotional for me. I’m going to try and hold back the tears. But I think it will just be a really, really cool experience. One of the greatest fraternities in golf to be in that room.”

At last week’s LIV Golf League event in Tucson, Arizona, Garcia said he was looking forward to attending the dinner.

“You’ll have to ask whoever is going to feel awkward,” Garcia said. “I’m going to feel fine. I don’t have any problems with anyone, and I try not to make a big deal out of it. I’m going to be there because I earned it, because I deserve it, and I’m going to enjoy it. I hope the rest of the guys do the same.”

Road to the Masters

To commemorate the release of the EA Sports PGA Tour: Road to the Masters video game, Augusta National Golf Club is hosting a Road to the Masters Invitational on April 2, the day before the start of practice rounds.

A yet-to-be-released list of celebrity participants will compete in a tournament that will be played in the media center at Augusta National. It will be streamed live on Masters.com and several social media platforms from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET. An edited version of the show will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

ESPN’s Michael Collins and Marty Smith will be among the analysts. The game is available worldwide on April 7.

Shaq among new TGL investors

NBA legends Shaquille O’Neal, Dwayne Wade and Kevin Durant are among the latest celebrities to invest in TMRW Sports, the company founded by Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and CEO Mike McCarley. They join other NBA stars like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Jayson Tatum as investors, according to an announcement by TMRW Sports on Tuesday.

TMRW Sports’ first project, the tech-infused TGL golf league, is scheduled to begin play in 2024. The two-hour matches will be played in prime time on Monday nights. Last month, TGL broke ground on an arena on the campus of Palm Beach State College in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. There will be 15 matches, plus semifinals and a final.

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