With the late additions of Charles Howell and Luke List, a total of 10 golfers with Georgia ties will be in the 64-player field for this week’s WGC Match Play Championship at Austin CC.
Both Howell and List were just outside the top 64 in the World Golf Ranking last week when the field was finalized, but the pair made it into the field thanks to an injury to Brooks Koepka and the decisions of Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott to skip the event.
List, No. 69 in the World Rankings at the time, was the last player added to the field, and will be making his first appearance in the Match Play Championship, which will also represent his first start in a WGC event.
The veteran among the Georgia contingent is St. Simons Island resident Zach Johnson, who has competed n each of the last 13 Match Play Championships. Johnson finished second in the event in his second appearance in 2006, but was eliminated in the early rounds on an annual basis until the format changed in 2015 and the event moved to Austin the next year.
Prior to 2015, the event consisted of a 64-player match play format, with the losers in each round eliminated. Beginning in 2015, the format changed, splitting the field into 16 groups of four players, with one player emerging from round robin play in each of the groups and the 16 survivors competing for the championship over two days and four matches.
Johnson has won his group each of the last two years, but has lost in his first match in the knockout portion of the tournament both times. He is 53rd in the 2017-18 FedExCup standings with a tie for eighth in the RSM Classic at Sea Island GC and four other top-20 finishes. Johnson lost in the round of 16 last year to eventual champion Dustin Johnson.
Fellow St. Simons resident and former Georgia Tech standout Matt Kuchar is making his ninth straight Match Play Championship start. He enjoyed considerable success in the event in his early appearances, placing third in 2011, reaching the quarterfinals in 2012 and winning in 2013. Since then, his best showing came in 2016, when he won his group but lost in the round of 16. Kuchar is 96th in the FedExCup standings with his only top finish a tie for fifth in Phoenix.
Bubba Watson, one of four ex-Georgia Bulldogs in the field, is making his eighth straight Match Play start. He placed fourth in the event in 2011, losing to Kuchar in the consolation match. He reached the third round in both 2013 and ’14, and won his group last year before losing in the round of 16. He is 21st in the FedExCup standings, snapping a year-long slump with a win in Los Angeles and a tie for ninth the next week in the WGC event in Mexico.
Howell, an Augusta native, qualified for the Match Play Championship seven straight years between 2002 and ’08, but made it past the second round just once in that stretch, reaching the third round in 2007. He has qualified for the event just three times since, and enjoyed his best-ever finish last year, winning his group before losing in the round of 16 to eventual runner-up Jon Rahm. Howell is 34th in the FedExCup standings, with a tie for fourth in Mayakoba and a tie for sixth in San Diego. He also played in the WGC HSBC event in China last fall and tied for 15th, and was T14 last week at Bay Hill.
Patrick Reed, who led Augusta State to back-to-back national championships in 2010 and ’11, is making his fifth straight Match Play start. He won his group in 2016, but lost in the round of 16. Reed is 30th in the FedExCup points list, largely due to a recent runner-up finish in Tampa, where he bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall out of a tie for the lead. He tied for seventh the next week at Bay Hill.
Also winning his round robin group in 2016 was St. Simons resident Patton Kizzire, who enjoyed a successful debut in the Match Play Championship before losing in the round of 16. This will be the second Match Play start for Kizzire, who is second in the FedExCup standings thanks to wins in Mayakoba and Hawaii and a tie for fourth in Las Vegas, where he finished one shot out of a playoff. Kizzire also qualified for the recent WGC event in Mexico and tied for 12th.
Macon native and former Georgia Bulldog Russell Henley is making his third Match Play start, losing in the second round in 2013 and failing to win his group two years later, This will be the first time he has competed in the event at Austin CC. Henley is 99th on the points list with a pair of ties for 15th in the Tournament of Champions and Pebble Beach.
Fellow ex-Bulldog Kevin Kisner qualified for the Match Play in Austin each of the last two years, but has yet to advance beyond the round robin stage. A tie for fourth in the RSM Classic, an event he has won previously, is his only strong showing this season, and he stands 88th on the points list.
The other Georgia Match Play rookie in the field besides List is Savannah native Brian Harman, one of four former UGA golfers competing and also one of four St. Simons residents. Harman has been among the most consistently successful players on the PGA Tour this season, with sixth finishes of eighth or better, including five top-5s.
Harman began the 2017-18 season with five straight top-10 finishes, and added a recent T5 in the WGC Mexico event. He tied for fourth in the RSM Classic to end the 2017 portion of the schedule, and began 2018 with a T3 in the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, following with a T4 in the Hawaiian Open the next week. Harman is currently 15th in the FedExCup standings.
List, who grew up in north Georgia, is enjoying a breakout season and is 17th on the points list with a string of strong showings. He began the season in Asia, tying for 13th in Malaysia and fifth in Korea, and continued his strong play in the U.S. with a tie for 12th in San Diego, a playoff loss to Justin Thomas in the Honda Classic, which earned him his spot in the Match Play field, and a T7 last week at Bay Hill.
Kuchar, No. 20 in the World Rankings, was the only Georgian in the Match Play field to be listed among the 16 in the “A” group, getting the last spot thanks to Koepka’s injury and the absences of Fowler, Rose and Stenson.
Harman (22), Reed (23) and Kisner (36) are among the “B” group, with Kisner the lowest-ranked player in that division. Watson (39) and Kizzire (52) are in the “C” group, with Kizzire the lowest-ranked player in that division.
Henley (55), Johnson (58), Howell (65) and List (67) are in the “D” group, with List moving up a few spots after his top 10 at Bay Hill. The field was determined prior to Bay Hill, with Bryson DeChambeau and Ryan Moore both moving into the top 69 in the World Rankings a week too late. They would have replaced Keegan Bradley and Joost Luiten had the field not been set until after Bay Hill. Luiten withdrew with an injury and was replaced by Julian Suri.
The groupings were determined Monday night, and two pairs of Georgians wound up in the same group.
Kuchar will play Johnson in all St. Simons match in a round robin opener Wednesday, with England’s Ross Fisher and Japan’s Yuta Ikeda the other two players in their group.
List and Kizzire are also in the same group, and will play on the third day of round robin matches Friday. List opens against Thomas, who defeated him in the Honda playoff, while Kizzire drew Francesco Molinari in an opening match.
Harman was placed in the group with Rory McIlroy, last week’s Bay Hill winner, with Jhonattan Vegas and Peter Uihlein also among that foursome. Harman will play McIlroy Friday.
Reed will play in the same group with Ryder Cup partner Jordan Spieth, with the two meeting on Friday. China’s Haotong Li and Charles Schwartzel are also in the group.
Kisner is the “B” player in his group behind defending champion Dustin Johnson, with their match set for Friday. Kisner will play Adam Hadwin and Bernd Wiesberger in his first two matches.
Watson plays his first match against Brendan Grace, with Marc Leishman the “A” player in the group. Suri is also part of the foursome.
Henley opens against Paul Casey, twice a Match Play runner-up, with his next two matches against Matthew Fitzpatrick and Kyle Stanley.
Howell plays Phil Mickelson in his round robin opener, with Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira also in the group.