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WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Breaking down tournament rules, play format, seeding info

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event tees off on Wednesday morning. Here’s a look at the format.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play | Can Justin Thomas Get the Win at Austin Country Club?

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is one of the more interesting and compelling formats in golf, and it makes for great theater and television. Even if on Sunday afternoon you’ll hear the broadcast team forced to empty the anecdote bag while filling so, much, time, as four golfers walk to their ball, match play is the most compelling way to watch golf.

And if the PGA Championship was smart, they’d go back to head-to-head to decide the major everyone cares about the least, but that’s a different post.

For the WGC in Austin, Texas, all 64 golfers are seeded 1-64 into 16 different groups. The Top 16 players in the field are the top seed in each group, players 17-32 are the second seeds, 33-48 the third seeds, and 49-64 are the fourth seeds.

From there, a blind draw establishes each of the 16 groups, so theoretically the No. 1 golfer could face the No. 17, No. 35, and No. 51 player in the world, or the No. 32, No. 48, and No. 64. The draw is the draw, and luck is a huge factor here as to who is playing well and who isn’t.

Here’s how the group pairings work on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday:

Wednesday: No. 1 seed vs. No. 4 seed, No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed
Thursday: No. 1 seed vs. No. 3 seed, No. 2 seed vs. No. 4 seed
Friday: No. 1 seed vs. No. 2 seed, No. 3 seed vs. No. 4 seed

The winner of a match receives one point, or if the match is tied after 18 holes, each player receives a half-point. And because this is match play, the winners don’t necessarily have to finish the course. If Player A is leading by three holes (3 Up) and there’s only two holes to play, the match is over. The score would be listed as Player A wins 3 & 2.

Now, here’s where the WGC gets cool.

If there is a tie amongst two (or three!) players following group play, we go to a sudden-death playoff to see who advances to the Round of 16 on Saturday. The players will start on the first hole, and the winner is whomever posts a lower score than their opponent on the next hole. They can end it on the first, or they can play an unlimited holes until one score is better than the other. It’s actual fun at a golf tournament on TV!

From there, it’s just like the NCAA Tournament: A bracket from the Sweet 16 forward will determine the winner. The 16 will play down to the quarterfinals on Saturday morning and in the afternoon those eight will become the final four.

On Sunday morning the semifinals take place, with the winners heading to the championship match, and the losers competing for third place. And why is there a third-place match? Because watching only two guys play golf on TV for four hours is a really, really tough watch.

The only difference once the Sweet 16 is established is there are no ties: If the players are “all square” after 18 holes, they’ll head to the first tee and play sudden death until someone advances.