Ben Coley takes a look at Thursday’s action at the WGC-Match Play, where Rory McIlroy is expected to take a big step towards the second round.
Golf betting tips: WGC-Match Play day two
3pts Rory McIlroy to win the WGC-Match Play at 10/1 (General)
1pt treble Henley, Hatton and McIlroy at 5/1 (Unibet)
1pt double Thompson and Kitayama at 11/5 (General)
0.5pt treble Horschel, Hughes and Svensson at 14/1 (General)
Defeat on day one needn’t mean the end of a player’s WGC-Match Play campaign, and prices ranging from 40/1 (Jon Rahm) to 750/1 (Mackenzie Hughes) could look generous come the end of day two.
Rahm putted very poorly against Rickie Fowler, whose bid for a late Masters invite recovered from being two down through three holes. Fowler though admitted, just as he had at The PLAYERS, that his swing didn’t feel great. Defeat for him combined with the anticipated bounce back from Rahm and that group would be back in the hands of the Spaniard.
Over seven renewals of the event in its current round-robin format, 13 players have topped their group despite having lost on day one, versus 99 who either won or halved. That suggests we should anticipate one, perhaps two such players emerging this year, and Rahm aside it’s Group 14 which would appeal most in terms of a turnaround.
Ben Griffin and Lucas Herbert were the winners on Wednesday, but it would be no surprise at all if all four players were tied on one point each after today’s matches.
Herbert faces TYRRELL HATTON, whose record here is excellent, and the Australian started to look really ragged as he limped over the line. Griffin has a lot to play for with the prospect of a Masters debut never closer than it is now but RUSSELL HENLEY, again unfortunate not to get more out of his match, is going to be hard to beat.
Odds of 7/1 Hatton and 12/1 Henley with Betfred could leave backers in a strong position going into Friday. Had those prices been generally available, both players would’ve been recommended in anticipation of a tightening of this group after the first round of matches both went to the underdogs.
Instead, I’ll stick to advising Hatton and Henley in their respective matches, with RORY MCILROY included to form a 5/1 treble. McIlroy was buzzing after a good performance against Scott Stallings, partly thanks to 54 holes at Augusta which appear to have gone to plan.
He faces Denny McCarthy, who will do well to recover from becoming the first player to surrender a four-up lead with five to play at Austin. McCarthy was visibly fuming after letting Keegan Bradley off the hook having led from the first hole to the last, and to face McIlroy after that will be extremely difficult.
It’s also of note that McCarthy ranked 61st of 64 players in strokes-gained total on day one. The format makes these numbers less informative than ordinarily they would be, nevertheless it’s clear that McIlroy (16th) played far better than he did. This should be straightforward enough for the favourite, who could’ve shortened more (10/1) given that his draw might be opening up.
Having taken a fairly cautious approach pre-tournament, I want to add McIlroy to the staking plan. In his quarter of the draw, danger men Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick both have work to do after opening defeats – even in anticipating a Hatton win today, he’d go into Friday almost certainly needing another, and then perhaps a play-off too. In the same half are Rahm and Will Zalatoris, who also suffered defeats.
By way of comparison, Scottie Scheffler’s main threats on the other side of the draw appeared to be Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland, all bar one of whom won. His likely second-round opponent, Sungjae Im, won easily, and before then it looks like he might have to beat Tom Kim on Friday.
Cantlay was my fancy pre-tournament but he’s now 12/1 from 20/1 despite the fact that all other top seeds in his section won. Of all the most likely winners of this event, the results so far have fallen kindest for McIlroy, yet his price has been trimmed only slightly. Anything 8/1 and upwards is a bet.
Earlier in the day, DAVIS THOMPSON can get the better of Sepp Straka.
Thompson couldn’t do much about Cam Young’s field-leading performance in their match. Young wowed new caddie Paul Tesori by going out in 27 and was nine-under through 12 holes, so a 3&2 defeat for Thompson rates the best form in defeat.
His performance in the AmEx earlier this year might explain why he took to Pete Dye’s Austin Country Club on debut and this enormous talent, who drives it long and putts well, should be odds-on to beat an out-of-sorts Straka. The Austrian arrived in poor form and was beaten 6&5, ranking 62nd of 64 players. Thompson was more than seven shots better.
Nick Taylor was another slightly unfortunate loser but he faces Brian Harman, who played his best round of golf in a while and has a handy record at Austin, so I’ll take KURT KITAYAMA instead.
The recent Bay Hill winner lost 2up to Adrian Meronk in what was a good match. Kitayama ranked fourth among the losers and should fancy his chances against Christiaan Bezuidenhout, whose awful record here was extended in a defeat to Tony Finau.
Finally, the pick of the clear underdogs are BILLY HORSCHEL, MACKENZIE HUGHES and ADAM SVENSSON.
Horschel will have been frustrated not to beat Keith Mitchell but 6/4 looks a big price against Fowler, who again wasn’t totally convinced with his own swing. Fowler’s approach play was solid but he won largely thanks to Rahm’s careless display on the greens.
Hughes was a tad unfortunate to bump into an on-song Jordan Spieth and boasts a good record in this event. He and Shane Lowry played to a similar level and while I’ve plenty of respect for the Irishman, there’s growing evidence that he’s not massively fond of this course.
Svensson is the riskiest of the trio as he faces Collin Morikawa. That said I didn’t think Morikawa played particularly well against Victor Perez and there’s not as much between these two as the odds suggest.
Hand on heart, I hadn’t expected to have eight selections so I’ll end by stressing that this volatile format demands circumspection and small stakes.
Posted at 0800 GMT on 23/03/23
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