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Big guns can shine in Austin

Big guns can shine in Austin

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In times past the only PGA Tour event played in Matchplay format has been viewed as something of a minefield but that has become less true in recent years.

If either Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas should prevail this week at the World Golf Championship Match Play, it will be four years running that either the first or second seeded player has come out on top.

Since this tournament switched from straight knockout to a round robin format, the cream has risen to the top as the merciless environment of 18-hole eliminations from the get-go was removed.

Rory McIlroy and Johnson have both won as top seeds, while in between, Jason Day walked off with the title as second seed.

Of the top two seeds this week, 8/1 chance Johnson is favoured given that he is the defending champion and won this event 12 months ago with plenty in hand on his rivals. He also looks to have found a good group alongside Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin and Bernd Wiesberger and will be a daunting prospect for anyone should be force his way into the last-16.

McIlroy too is going to prove a tough nut to crack and is the favourite at 27/4 to win this title for the second time in his career.

He putted like a dream last week at Bay Hill and a repeat performance in this format would almost render the four-time Major champion unbeatable, if he can find it.

The record of the top seeds is compelling, but we’ll have to widen the net just a little more in pursuit of value and there are more trends to look out for.

Since Henrik Stenson won as ninth seed in 2007, eight of the next ten champions have been ranked ninth or higher.

That brings in last year’s runner-up Jon Rahm, ranked third, at 11/1 and interesting contenders like Sergio Garcia (seeded seven) and ninth seed Tommy Fleetwood.

The latter is worth some interest at 34/1. Ian Poulter and Luke Donald have won this title for England in 2010 and 2011, with Paul Casey a losing finalist in 2009 and 2010 and Ross Fisher going to the last-eight a year ago.

Fleetwood has the game to compete with anyone and has a likeable draw with Poulter, Daniel Berger and Kevin Chappell.

The selection to win comes from a bit deeper in the field and is Patrick Reed at 27/1.

Reed is seeded 19th, so he does fall outside the category that has produced nine of 11 winners recently.

The pair that broke that moult were Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar – both seeded 21 and, like Reed, with Ryder Cup experience on their side.

Reed tends to excel in this form of the game and his group has given him a mouthwatering dust down with Jordan Spieth.

Neither will want to give an inch, with their Ryder Cup partnership as strong as anything the US has produced recently. While Reed has been brilliant in Ryder Cup singles, Spieth has struggled to emulate his partner in crime.

Reed has also been playing well recently, including tied-second at the Valspar Championship and tied-seventh at Bay Hill. He has momentum on his side and can use victory over Spieth in the round robin as a springboard for a push at this title.

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Enda McElhinney Our racing expert, Enda studies cards in both England and Ireland on a daily basis and knows all the details you need to know when trying to select a winner. He is also a regular football writer and has strong knowledge of the Scottish game, with golf another specialised sport on his CV.