This is the greatest time of the sports year until, well, there are no sports. We must find a way to trudge along in our sportsless depression. What better way to do so than by hypothetically thinking about the tournaments we missed and the brackets left blank.
No March Madness? No problem.
No WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play? We got this!
I have crossed over to the make-believe side to continue a tradition of comparing the 64 golfers in the Match Play tournament to their doppelganger twin in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. It is presented in numerical order by OWGR rankings to provide an escape and, perhaps, maybe a what could have been. Enjoy!
(In order to set the basketball field, I used the final mock bracket from ESPN expert Joe Lunardi.)
No. 1 Rory McIlroy is 1-seed Gonzaga: Sustained greatness with timeless class is hard to come by. The Zags’ Cinderella past was littered with questions about being able to win (like a Duke, for example), but hindsight shows it was a lot of nitpicking. Don’t listen to the haters, right, Rors? McIlroy may have occasional Sunday woes, but the overall body of work is beyond elite save a couple (Tiger, for example). And in an era where controversy abounds, Gonzaga wins with team first, sage coaching and non-one-and-done philosophies, while McIlroy speaks out, leads and shows us how to live. Embrace the greatness walking selflessly amongst us.
No. 2 Jon Rahm is 1-seed Dayton: Rising to the top line of the sport is not a surprise if you’ve been paying close attention over the years to a program/player that has all of the pieces. This year was the culmination on top. The uncaged power of Rahm’s swing and physique is to golf what Obi Toppin’s man-among-boys game has been to college hoops this season. It is an absolute pity coronavirus has kept them from us.
No. 3 Brooks Koepka is 2-seed Kentucky: Do we still believe? After four Final Fours from 2011-2015, the Wildcats haven’t been back since. The all-in approach to building around elite freshmen may be a fleeting strategy, especially with the momentum shifting to ending one-and-done players. Koepka’s run in majors seems statistically unattainable, and the questions surrounding his knee aren’t answered. Where there once was only fear now has some doubt.
No. 4 Justin Thomas is 3-seed Duke: Probably underseeded in terms of talent, this has been an odd year in terms of performance, with the Blue Devils looking the part with NBA talent and then capable of giving up 113 to Wake frickin’ Forest. Thomas looks healthy and ready to rise back to the top, and then Riviera happens. Huh? Would’ve been interested to see the rollercoaster ride continue pre-corona.
No. 5 Dustin Johnson is 3-seed Michigan State: One of the deepest brands hanging on during a year of change at the top of the sport. You wonder how long this magical ride is going to last. [FYI, DJ was compared to North Carolina last year, as 1-seeds, and the Heels **poof** vanished this year]
No. 6 Adam Scott is 2-seed Creighton: The body of work over an extended period of time is even better under a microscope. Both present a smooth, polished image in an ever-expanding sea of bigger, brutish competitors. The Jays ability to shoot the 3 is like Scott’s swing: timelessly effective.
No. 7 (tied) Patrick Reed is 4-seed Louisville: Just when you think the powers-that-be in the sport -- or maybe even karma -- will make this brand go away, there they are, poking you in the side. Reed continues to win and clutch putt like a champ amidst the boo birds. The Cardinals ride scandal into the arms of coach Chris Mack, who keep them as national champion contenders. Oh, and Rick Pitino is coaching in college again. How is that possible? Teflon.
No. 7 (tied) Patrick Cantlay is 2-seed Florida State: Gritty, not pretty. If it weren’t for Rory McIlroy’s statistical season last year, we’d all be talking about how good of an all-around campaign Cantlay had. If it weren’t for the household names of the ACC, we’d be talking about how strong the ‘Noles are on both ends of the floor. Both are extremely comfortable with their philosophy.
No. 9 Webb Simpson is 1-seed Baylor: No matter how many experts tell you that their season is not only good, it is historically great, you just can’t put your chips all-in. Whether it’s the home loss to Kansas or the inability to rank in the top 100 in SG: Off The Tee, you just aren’t prepared to discuss either as front-line championship contenders. Baylor somehow gets kids to redshirt. Webb somehow became an elite putter post anchoring. Beware of both.
No. 10 Tommy Fleetwood is Wisconsin: There was a bracket simulation by ESPN where the Badgers won the national championship. That felt strange. Fleetwood is the trendy pick to win big soon and then there was that 5-wood at Honda. Strange times indeed.
No. 11 Tiger Woods is 1-seed Kansas: The blueblood that just won’t die. There is enough controversy and drama around this program over the years to star in its own telenovela. Kansas is circling the FBI investigation drain. Tiger is circling the broken body inevitability. Yet, you know what? We all cracked a smile when the Jayhawks rolled into Baylor and won this year to remind people who is boss, much in the same way Tiger used 2019 to flirt with us again. They may not be squeaky clean, but America loves and respects a winner.
No. 12 Xander Schauffele is 2-seed San Diego State: Our first alma mater pairing! Lurking just under the heavyweight names, it’s hard to ignore how good both have been at the top of the sport. X Man sports a 50-percent top 10 rate in big-field events, while the Aztecs have won 20+ in 14 of the last 15 seasons and produced, arguably, the best all-around player in the NBA. (Nod to @dfs_optimal for the suggestion)
No. 13 Bryson DeChambeau is 6-seed Virginia: Bludgeon the competition to death. Virginia won it all by committing to a philosophy of defense and ball control. You can’t argue with the results. DeChambeau doubled down on double burgers and deltoids and is throttling the ball to start 2020. So far, you can’t argue the results.
No. 14 Justin Rose is 3-seed Villanova: Both were number one in the sport back in 2018. It was the culmination of building all of the pieces to become the ultimate all-around player on the block. Now, in 2020, it’s good, but you wonder if the perfect specimen of two years ago is still attainable.
No. 15 Marc Leishman is 3-seed Seton Hall: Mainly because I want to see the big Aussie dressed like a Pirate. Also, there were few teams in the country with as impressive of wins as the Hall, and Leishman’s final round at Torrey against a loaded field may be the most impressive winning performance of 2020 thus far.
No. 16 Tony Finau is 4-seed Maryland: Both are incredibly long but what a difference a month makes! The Terps were sprinting towards a one-seed before losing 3 of 5. Finau was sprinting towards an overdue Tour win before returning from a break to go T51-MC.
No. 17 Matt Kuchar is 5-seed Michigan: If you love khakis with pleats, this is the matchup made in heaven. Kooch and Jim Harbaugh shop from the same tailor. (Okay, so that wasn’t basketball; sue me.)
No. 18 Gary Woodland is 5-seed Auburn: A U.S. Open for Gary and a Final Four for the Tigers made 2019 the pinnacle year for both, so you can forgive them a bit if you think 2020 is just a half step below the top of the mountain.
No. 19 Louis Oosthuizen is 4-seed Oregon: Be honest, you see each of their names ranked/seeded this high and just nod in agreement, completely unaware of how they got this far up the list.
No. 20 Shane Lowry is 8-seed Colorado: Buffs.
No. 21 Tyrrell Hatton is 7-seed Providence: Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants a piece of either right now. The Friars played their way into the tournament by winning anywhere and against anybody late in the Big East schedule. Hatton has won twice in four starts and went T6, Dub to start 2020 after a rest.
No. 22 Hideki Matsuyama is 5-seed Butler: A relevant, household name to fans of the sport, but without the major title to be an all-time great. Each are consistent and supremely talented, but always feel as if they are one small thing (clutch putting, perhaps; an NBA prospect, you could say) away from ultimate glory.
No. 23 Sungjae Im is 6-seed Iowa: Nobody is taking the sports quarantine harder than these two. Im has played golf seemingly every week, while the Hawkeye’s center Luka Garza has an endless motor that would’ve thrived on the NCAA stage. Imagine the boredom now.
No. 24 Paul Casey is 8-seed Houston: Darlings a year ago, but seeking similar form at the most important time of the year.
No. 25 Matthew Fitzpatrick is 6-seed Penn State: 2020 felt like it was going to be a breaking out party for both, with the Nittany Lions making the tourney for the first time in nine years and Fitzpatrick’s fuller tour on the PGA Tour was going to lead to a big win.
No. 26 Bernd Wiesberger is 8-seed Saint Mary’s: Seemingly here every year, until you realize how big 2019 was in a return to glory, and yet we all fail to really know something more about them.
No. 27 Rickie Fowler is 5-seed Ohio State: A marketable, dependable, household brand in sports, but the ups and downs of the past season in terms of performance are a bit surprising given how steady things have traditionally been.
No. 28 Francesco Molinari is 7-seed Arizona: Just longin’ for the good ol’ days. Arizona is back for the first time since 2018, but surrounded by a cloud of scandal. Molinari hasn’t looked the same since his magical 2018, and is now surrounded by a cloud of bad putting.
No. 29 Abraham Ancer is 7-seed Illinois: Virtually no expectations 365 days ago, the last year has been a blur of overachieving, validation and an ability to stay highly competitive. You expect this seeding to improve over time.
No. 30 Kevin Na is 9-seed Marquette: Each possess a dangerous weapon. Na has his putter. The Golden Eagles have Markus Howard. When on, both can single-handedly carry the weight to victory. When they are off? Pedestrian.
No. 31 Lee Westwood is 9-seed Rutgers: It has been a while, hasn’t it? While Westwood hasn’t missed this field, there certainly has been a resurgence this year. Rutgers dances for the first time since 1991, which was also the year Lee won his first major amateur title.
No. 32 Henrik Stenson is 9-seed Oklahoma: A couple of years ago, each had one of the best weapons in the sport. Trae Young is gone, so is Stenson’s 3-wood. There is still a spot in the bracket, but...?
No. 33 Danny Willett is 7-seed West Virginia: You wouldn’t sitting back with either, grabbing some moonshine and seeing what kind of stories you could get (or make).
No. 34 Billy Horschel is 9-seed Florida: I would like to think Billy Ho would be proud to be linked with his beloved Gators, who underachieved a bit this year from preseason expectations. [Ducks] Chomp, Chomp
No. 35 Cameron Smith is 12-seed Texas: We are running out of time, even with the occastional impressive win, to fully believe what we are seeing is going to be as great as promised.
No. 36 Kevin Kisner is 12-seed Stephen F. Austin: Guaranteed to put up a big fight and is 50-50 to provide an upset.
No. 37 Chez Reavie is 6-seed BYU: Straight as an arrow.
No. 38 Sergio Garcia is 10-seed Texas Tech: Wait a second, aren’t you that team that played for the national title a year ago? Hold up a minute, didn’t you win the Masters a couple of years ago?
No. 39 Jazz Janewattananond is 10-seed USC: Young talent you can’t pronounce, like freshman Onyeka Okongwu for the Trojans. Gesundheit!
No. 40 Victor Perez is 13-seed New Mexico State: If only the Lobos had made the tourney, this would’ve made WAY more sense. Same state though!
No. 41 Shugo Imahira is 14-seed Eastern Washington: Beating up on the Japan Tour hasn’t translated to the big stage yet, just like owning the Big Sky Conference does not an NCAA champion make.
No. 42 Erik van Rooyen is 11-seed Cincinnati: Both seem poised to stick around and be relevant for many years, with Van Rooyen endearing himself weekly to new fans and the Bearcats new coach, John Brannen, really stinkin’ good at his job.
No. 43 Matt Wallace is 14-seed Bradley: Apparently not going to be one-hit wonders.
No. 44 Collin Morikawa is 8-seed LSU: Just oozing with young talent and ready to give any top seed a run for their money.
No. 45 Scottie Scheffler is 10-seed Utah State: Broken record here, but another team no higher seed wants to see in its path to the title.
No. 46 Rafa Cabrera Bello is 11-seed East Tennessee State: Three-word names stick together, period.
No. 47 Christiaan Bezuidenhout is 13-seed Vermont: The feel good stories before sports got turned off. The South African overcoming a stutter he got from ingesting rat poison (seriously, go find the story) and the Catamounts honoring a senior debilitated from a car accident (you’ll need tissues).
No. 48 Brandt Snedeker is 14-seed Belmont: Nashville’s finest for a long time.
No. 49 Graeme McDowell is 13-seed North Texas: Both reppin’ Conference USA.
No. 50 Ben An is 12-seed Yale: The cleverness of An’s growing social media presence would fit right in with the Ivy League, no?
No. 51 Jason Day is 16-seed Winthrop: How are both this low? Am I really getting that old?
No. 52 Sung Kang is 13-seed Akron: I seriously spent 20 minutes trying to come up with a clever way to use Zips to describe Kang’s game, but failed, so here we are.
No. 53 Bubba Watson is 12-seed Liberty: Christian values with absolutely, positively no conflict over time.
No. 54 Brendon Todd is 11-seed PLAY IN WINNER N.C. State or UCLA: Welcome back, welcome back, welcome baaaacck. New coaches, new perspective, new winning.
No. 55 Adam Hadwin is Hofstra: For alliteration purposes only.
No. 56 Jordan Spieth is 11-seed Indiana: Big name brands that are shells of their former, world-beating selves. The question now is are the fans’ expectations for their return to the top rooted in the past or future reality? (Credit @TtotheIzzA on this one.)
No. 57 Viktor Hovland is North Dakota State: About as close as one can get to Scandinavian conditions in the lower 48.
No. 58 Ian Poulter is Little Rock: A former champion once came from Arkansas, but it wasn’t this school. A former Match Play winner was Ian Poulter, but it wasn’t this vintage.
No. 59 Tom Lewis is 15-seed Northern Kentucky: Lewis entered the Korn Ferry Tour Championship on a whim, won and now is Tour jumping. The Norse were D2 just eight years ago and now made the big dance three of the last four years.
No. 60 Shaun Norris is 16-seed PLAY IN GAME: You want to check the credentials one more time, just to make sure they belong.
No. 61 Phil Mickelson is 10-seed Arizona State: An alma mater match made in heaven as all of these Sun Devils just barely snuck into the tournament.
No. 62 Andrew Putnam is 15-seed UC Irvine: Putnam went to school just an hour away at Pepperdine, but Malibu feels light years away in reality from Irvine.
No. 63 Keegan Bradley is 16-seed Prairie View A&M: Because somebody had to be.
No. 64 Lucas Herbert is 16-seed Siena: The Saints made a coaching change and made the dance. Herbert’s mental coach helped him find joy in the game again and a spot in the top 64. Who says coaching doesn’t matter?
Pour a little out for the brackets that never were, my people.