Who doesn’t love brackets?!
Any red-blooded American sports fan gets a little giddy at the idea of a 64-man/team grid whittling down to that ultimate champion. Predicting its outcome? About as smart as trying to cover 240 yards over water from a perched lie in the first cut. You know you will fail nine times out of 10, but look at that lie! You can’t avoid it. It is your instinct to go for it.
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Professional golf was wise to capitalize on bracket fever when the Dell Match Play started in 1999. There is not enough match play in professional golf. It is the only time fans can truly see stars pitted against each other one-on-one. And while the gap between No. 1 and No. 64 in the rankings isn’t as wide as Kansas and Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament, there are still upsets.
So, as you grapple with 16 pods again this year and try pick which golfers advance, all the while glancing at your basketball bracket that went horribly wrong when Bronson Koenig drilled a game-winner falling out of bounds, here is a completely subjective and warped mashup of 64 golfers and 64 tournament teams.
Jordan Spieth is Michigan State: The Spartans weren’t a 1 seed. Most felt they should have been, but if we dig deeper, is this really the pick you want to win it all? Like Spieth, Sparty was polished, well-rounded and had superstar (Denzel Valentine) characteristics. But, there was enough smoke during the season to see a first-round exit coming. And Valentine’s on court barraging of a teammate reminds some of a certain player calling out a caddy post-Valspar Championship. It’s a more unpredictable entity than what we originally penciled in.
Jason Day is Kansas: Just rolling people. Deep, long and experienced. Kansas has Perry Ellis, who has been in college for what seems like 10 years. Day is the only player in the Big 4 who is married with kids.
Fear the team/player who is hot and also grounded by experience.
Rory McIlroy is Oklahoma: Both feature the most dynamic offensive weapon in the game. Rory’s driving and explosiveness can erupt at any time, like Buddy Hield did in the second half against VCU last Sunday.
You watch both because of that possible explosive moment, but you secretly wonder if this is the week/game where it won’t all be there and then, splat.
Bubba Watson is North Carolina: Incredibly long and athletic but surprisingly struggles at times to get the ball in the hole/bucket. Both have struggled with distractions, from UNC’s academic scandal to whichever person clicked a camera a minute ago. When locked in, however, nobody has the talent or creativity to match.
Rickie Fowler is Oregon: Incredibly well branded and financially backed by a marketing empire. Like Oregon this season, Fowler has answered critics by winning and being consistent, but his place at the top of the list with the bluebloods seems as frail as the next potential loss.
Adam Scott is Villanova: When in rhythm, both might be the most beautiful experience to watch in
each sport. Scott is locked in right now and has answered the critics who questioned his ability to play well with a short putter again. He conquered his mental hurdles, just as Villanova exercised its first-weekend demons. What’s next could define legacies.
Justin Rose is Virginia: You just have to respect the consistency (Rose has top-20s in 15 of his last 18 starts) and commitment to details for both, even if neither one really move the needle or overwhelm you with flashiness. While Virginia needs a signature something (Final Four) more than Rose, Justin is probably itching to win another big trophy to help jog some memories.
Dustin Johnson is Miami: So. Incredibly. Long. And athletic! Both are matchup nightmares. And while Miami can bludgeon you to death, they counter it with great touch, in the form of Angel Rodriguez. Speaking of touch, did you know Johnson is second on Tour on wedges inside of 125 yards?
Patrick Reed is West Virginia: Both have fan bases that likely skew a little bit from center from their peers. Both are the wild cards in the room/gym. You would nod the same if somebody told you they won it all or were bounced in the first round.
Danny Willett is Texas A&M: There is a lot of hype in both brackets about the potential. The Aggies needed the greatest collapse in NCAA tournament history to survive. Or was it a comeback? Willett showed some heroics in this event last year. Expect a comeback story to stay alive.
Branden Grace is Utah: Absolutely no love for both. Grace has quietly become the best South African player on the planet, while Utah was the second best team in a loaded Pac-12 Conference and feature a
couple of lottery picks. Oh yeah, the Utes got blown out in the second round, so...
Hideki Matsuyama is Xavier: There is a lot of pride in the Musketeer program that has had some deep tournament runs, and there is a load of talent there. But, when you peel away the hype, there is a void when it comes to actual winning (Xavier hasn’t won a conference tournament in a decade). The win in Phoenix helped, but Matsuyama still has some catching up to do.
Sergio Garcia is Kentucky: Too easy here. The team/player you love to hate, who has had as much
talent for the last 10 years without as many monumental wins many would have expected. The counter to that: expectations have become too inflated.
Zach Johnson is Purdue: Rock solid defensively and deliberate in approach. You expect both to thrive under tournament pressure and build a lead. Only you expect Johnson to do a better job holding a lead than the Boilers last week.
Brandt Snedeker is Texas: Both made sweeping coaching changes in the last year or so to insert some life back into the program. It led Sneds to a couple of wins, and Texas to compete better. Fans of both
probably expect a lot more, and you wonder how realistic those expectations might be.
Louis Oosthuizen is Arizona: Both have been at the top of the mountain before and were trending in
that direction recently, but injuries have been a nagging issue and you just don’t have as much confidence in either because of it.
Phil Mickelson is Duke: Another no-brainer. The most storied winners in either bracket. Phil may not have as many enemies as the Blue Devils, but his sudden reinvention of himself has gotten folks thinking the career Grand Slam isn’t out of the question, much like Coach K’s reinvention with one-and-done players taking him to the title last season.
Brooks Koepka is California: Oozing with talent (Cal has four future pros), but neither entered their respective tournaments with a ton of vocal supporters. Cal was a trendy upset pick that came true, and you get the feeling the love for Koepka has shifted to Willett in Group 10.
Charl Schwartzel is Gonzaga: Seeded/ranked way too low. Charl is winning, and winning often. Don’t
mess with winning. Tell that to the Zags, who quietly won the West Coast Conference with a stacked roster and then overwhelmed two first round opponents. No offense to Snedeker, but Schwartzel is the best player in Group 15 right now, and it isn’t close.
Kevin Kisner is Iowa State: You want offense? The Cyclones are second in the country in adjusted
offensive efficiency (shout out to the analytic crowd), while Kisner ranks fourth on Tour in birdie average, scoring average and total eagles.
J.B. Holmes is Seton Hall: Both feature one of the great weapons of the entire bracket. Holmes possesses lethal distance, while the Pirates had Isaiah Whitehead. After that? Need a bit more “good” to become
“great” to survive and advance.
Jimmy Walker is Baylor: Check the math, but this is the only player who matches up with alma mater. Unfortunately for Jimmy, it’s not all positive. Like his beloved Bears, Walker has built a winning brand
out of years of hard work, but with his performances on the big stage trending down in 2015 (no top-20 finishes in majors or WGC events), and Baylor going 0-for-2 the last two trips, the time to gain positive momentum is now.
Paul Casey is Indiana: Really trendy pick here. Casey seems poised based on past history to do well in this tournament. The Hoosiers uptick in play had many picking them to go to the Final Four. But, both
got horrible draws. Indiana already survived Kentucky, only to get North Carolina. Casey has to hope Jason Day drank too many Arnold Palmers to survive Group 2.
Shane Lowry is Notre Dame: Irish! 2015 was a better year for both here. But, somehow, Mike Brey got his team back to the Sweet 16, largely due to an easy draw. You could make the same argument for Lowry to advance, as Zach Johnson, Martin Kaymer and Marcus Fraser aren’t intimidating anybody.
Marc Leishman is Iowa: Good for a while, but not very good of late. You thought Iowa losing 7 of 10 was rough? Leishman has missed six of 13 cuts since the PGA Championship, but does have a win stuck in there, which is why you can’t rule out a tip-in at the buzzer to win.
Kevin Na is Wichita State: The one name you didn’t want to see drawn against you when the brackets came out.
Byeong-hun An is Southern Cal: Rising talent that nobody is talking about. The Trojans were good and balanced this year and will be back. An is a U.S. Amateur champ and now winning as a pro. Look out.
Matt Kuchar is Maryland: Everything on paper (pedigree, talent, name) makes you want to pick this.
But something just isn’t 100% right now.
Andy Sullivan is Oregon State: You want to learn more.
Bill Haas is Wisconsin: Both epitomize the overlooked entity of their peer group. Haas, the American golfer whose won more than you think, but just plods along. Wisconsin, the after-thought of the Big Ten,
until last year’s role players becomes this year’s stars.
Justin Thomas is Providence: Uber-talented (Providence had the best guard in the tournament in Kris Dunn), but one tool away from getting out of the shadows of the one seed to being a force of its own.
Russell Knox is Saint Joseph’s: You nod your head, acknowledging that both have carved out a nice little niche for themselves. See you again next year.
Emiliano Grillo is UConn: Both had to win a lot to make the field. Grillo went back-to-back, including the opening of the Tour season. The Huskies ran off four straight to win their conference title.
Danny Lee is Dayton: A lot of talk about all of the work done and the talent assembled, but still not cracking the conversation.
Bernd Wiesberger is Pittsburgh: Feel the Bergs!
Thongchai Jaidee is Colorado: The epitome of the 8/9 seed. Could win against a big boy, but the odds are against you.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat is UT-Chattanooga: Nobody embodies the physique of a train better. Choo Choo!
David Lingmerth is Texas Tech: Admit it, you had sort of forgotten that both were in the field.
Victor Dubuisson is VCU: Remember when there was a TON of hype here?
Billy Horschel is Syracuse: Lots of doubters, but like Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, there isn’t a guy on Tour who can channel great play out of doubt.
Chris Wood is Cincinnati: Because each starts with the letter “C.” (Sorry, there just aren’t 64 perfect fits.)
Matthew Fitzpatrick is Michigan: Tons of pedigree here, but Michigan didn’t belong in the tournament this year and beat an even more unworthy team (Tulsa) to get there. While Fitzpatrick does deserve his
spot, no doubt, his “strength of schedule” will get better as he faces more Tour competition.
Soren Kjeldsen is Stony Brook: Quick, who did Stony Brook lose to last week? Now, run of Kjeldsen’s resume. Solid 2015 on the European Tour, including four top-twos, but work to do in big field events. (The answer was Kentucky.)
Martin Kaymer is Butler: Once on top of the world, not once but twice. Will either be back again?
Ryan Moore is Yale: Polished and with a style all their own, the experience and competitiveness will make either a really hard out.
Smylie Kaufman is Northern Iowa: Poised to shock the world, in either good ways or bad.
Scott Piercy is Hawaii: Proven commodity. Plus, Piercy’s personality is so Hawaiian!
Anirban Lahiri is Hampton: Nobody has feasted on the guaranteed money of WGC events better than
Lahiri, who has performed better in big events to keep his ranking high.
Robert Streb is Temple: You know that both deserve to be in the field, but then you realize you don’t particularly know why.
Jaco Van Zyl is Little Rock: You know nothing about either until they hit a 25-footer to bust your bracket.
Jamie Donaldson is South Dakota State: For American golf fans, Donaldson is just like the Jackrabbits. In the tournament (or majors, or Ryder Cups) every year, but not a household name.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello is Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks should be the Cinderella in the Sweet 16 right now. They snuck up on teams not paying attention to the fact they had won 21 straight games. Cabrera-Bello was 111st in the world three months ago. He’s nearly won twice since the start of 2016. Don’t sleep on him.
Daniel Berger is Iona: A lot of firepower if he can avoid bad matchups, Berger got a favorable draw in Group 9. Iona did not.
Chris Kirk is Middle Tennessee State: MTSU beat Michigan State with its own game (shooting and
toughness), and Kirk has the ballstriking to hang with anybody when on. His group is more than manageable.
Thomas Pieters is Buffalo: Proven winner waiting for a big win that gets recognition.
Charley Hoffman is Fresno State: West coast golfer gets a west coast team. It’s a stretch.
Fabian Gomez is Green Bay: Both in the tournament because of wins (Gomez in Memphis and Hawaii,
Green Bay in the Horizon League) that nobody really saw coming.
Jason Dufner is Austin Peay: There is only one golfer that could handle the “Let’s Go Peay” chant with the proper strut down the fairway.
Lee Westwood is UNC-Wilmington: A lot of hype around Wilmington and the chance to upset Duke.
Sometimes you just don’t have the firepower to hang. Is Westy trending that way at this stage?
Marcus Fraser is Weber State: Because somebody had to be Weber State.
Matt Jones is CSUB: Because he looks like a California guy transplanted in Australia.
Graeme McDowell is Holy Cross: The feel good story of the tournament (before the actual first round tipped off), Bill Carmody won a game in the tournament, and then had no chance to win. GMac is struggling, but everybody would get behind a little magic.
Thorbjorn Olesen is Florida Gulf Coast: Remember when both were the hot trends a couple of years
ago? FGCU made the Sweet 16 in 2013. Two weeks later, the Thunder Bear finished T-6 in the Masters and was 33rd in the world. That was his highest ranking to date.