No one will ever confuse the NCAA Basketball Tournament with a golf match play event, but the PGA Tour wants you to continue bracket madness on your second screen with a cacophony of coverage at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. It’s not the Ryder Cup, but it’ll do nicely for a weekend in late March.
Late on Friday afternoon, it appeared that Billy Horschel would head home from Austin Country Club and tune up for The Masters in a couple of weeks. After all, Billy Ho’s doing well for himself. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 out of nowhere and took home the oodles of millions of dollars (10 million, to be exact) that come with the Cup. However, Horschel hung around in a playoff against Max Homa to enter the knockout stage at the only tournament on tour that requires an advanced mathematics degree. Horschel gave Homa shots on the first and second playoff hole to advance. Max declined. Billy advanced.
Two days and four more matches later, Horschel eventually won the whole thing, taking down Scottie Scheffler in the championship match to take home his first World Golf Championships title.
The champion of the PGA Tour's only match-play event needs not only solid physical conditioning, but mental toughness as well. Trust me, I watched all seven rounds. There’s absolutely an advantage for a positive person to excel in this format. Matt Kuchar seemingly makes the knockout round on a yearly basis. (He made it to the consolation match this year.)
“I’m never down,” an absolutely beaming Horschel explained in his post Sunday Zoom media session. “I’m never out, until you tell me I can’t play anymore.”
This moves Horschel up to six wins on Tour for his career. The 34-year-old couldn’t handpick better events to win as a professional, save a major. He’s no stranger to winning with a playing partner (2018 Zurich Classic) which gives many fans visions of Billy Ho in matching polo shirts at a Ryder Cup.
“I want to make the Ryder Cup team. I’d be stupid to say that I didn’t want to make the Ryder Cup team or not be aware of it,” Horschel stated in his most important pitch of the seven rounds. “We’ll just have to see how the rest of the year plays out.”
Looking back on the weekend, Horschel’s toughest match didn’t take place against Scottie Scheffler in the championship. He needed to claw out a playoff win against Tommy Fleetwood on Saturday afternoon. Horschel nearly threw it all away with a par on the first playoff hole as Fleetwood played in the woods in the quarterfinal round. Horschel needed to make about a four footer and advance to the semis. Oh, Billy, Billy, Billy. He dodged that bullet.
Horschel also learned from his bitter experiences in this event. Like any good golfer who breaks his maiden in a different style of play, Horschel remembers all the “what if” times.
“In 2015, I was 2 up on Rory McIlroy. Whoever won our match was going to move on. Rory drained a 45-footer on 17 and then birdied 18 and then he won two holes later,” Horschel can now say with a grin. “That was an opportunity lost there.”
Horschel took advantage of most of his opportunities in a windy weekend in the state capital of Texas. He’s already an established, accomplished veteran on Tour. It just feels like this return back into the win column after almost three years puts a spotlight back on the 32nd seed in the match play.
Damn underdogs. Always looking to hang around on the weekend.