If a lot (and we mean a lot) goes right for a pair of Canadian golfers this week, then there will be plenty of eyes on a particular Round-of-16 match at Austin Country Club.
But for Nick Taylor, he’s just trying to enjoy the uniqueness of the week at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play – especially after another solid result on the PGA Tour on Sunday.
Taylor and countryman Adam Hadwin have a chance to face off against each other if they make it out of group play at the WGC, a unique scenario that could unfold for the Canadians if they both top their groups. Taylor, at No. 67 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and Hadwin at No. 63, also have a chance to earn Masters berths this week if they get into the top-50 in the OWGR by week’s end. Either golfer could do that if they make it to the semi-finals, per the world-ranking projections, but given the way the brackets look only one could do it since one would have to beat the other to move on.
Taylor, who finished tied for 10th at last week’s Valspar Championship for his fourth top-10 result of the season, admitted he’s not thinking about the carrot at the end of the week, just given how many variables there are first.
“It’s one of those things where so much has to happen. It’s so different than a stroke play event. A lot of things I can’t control but it’s a lot of matches away. You knock one down at a time, that’s great, but it’s not in my mind right now,” Taylor said. “Maybe it’ll be there Saturday afternoon if I have to win a match to get there, but not starting Wednesday.”
With a laugh, Taylor said he and Hadwin have never played a match against one another in a tournament. He won the 2007 Canadian Men’s Amateur championship, which was the last year it was a match-play event, in 38 holes. He did not face any of the current crop of Canadians on the PGA Tour en route to the finale, however, and never faced off against his countrymen in U.S. Amateurs or collegiate events either.
About a decade ago he won a match-play event on a mini-tour in the U.S., but he can’t recall in the last 10 years if he’s ever played another match-play tournament.
Still, he enjoys the format.
“Playing one person is so different than what we normally do but I’ve always enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to it,” said Taylor. “I’m not a huge fan of round robin; I’m a bigger fan of knockout-and-go. But it also gives you three matches and hopefully I can win all three. You’re always trying to win each but if the first day doesn’t go as plan you still have a shot so you can keep grinding away.”
This is set to be the final match-play tournament on the PGA Tour schedule for the foreseeable future, as it was confirmed recently this event would be removed from the 2024 schedule. There are 64 golfers in the field divided into 16 groups of four. The winner of each group will move on to the knock-out rounds.
Scottie Scheffler is the defending champion, while there are five Canadians in the field – a record – with Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes, and Adam Svensson joining Hadwin and Taylor.
Taylor said Austin Country Club, which will play host for the seventh time is “quirky” but ideal for this format.
“It suits match play. There are so many different shots you can hit and strategies, like where you are in your match or where your competitor hits it, that can change your strategy quickly which makes it a fun course for your format,” he said.
While there are plenty of reasons to believe in the Canadian contingent this year – Conners finished third last year, for example, knocking off Dustin Johnson in the consolation match – it’s Taylor who is coming into the week with the most momentum.
The 34-year-old had a fairly introspective off-season and came into the 2022-23 campaign with a new approach to his game. He’s using celebrated Canadian short-game guru Gareth Raflewski now and switched the claw putting grip. That’s seen Taylor move from 137th in Strokes Gained: Putting last season to 52nd in the same category so far this year. He’s 19th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Total and last week at the Valspar was a perfect example of how his complete game benefitted him by the end of 72 holes.
“Last week was pretty steady, I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff… but each day I felt like a different part of my game was carrying me to the finish line,” he said.
“Since I went to this claw grip my four days putting are definitely not as bad as they used to be, and I can have consistent good rounds. It’s elevated on the greens a little bit which is kind of everything out here. If you can take advantage of hot rounds with the putter and turn your 74s into 72s then that’s crucial. That’s been the biggest change.”
Taylor’s wife, Andie, is due with their second child on May 8and the two-time Tour winner said he’ll take three weeks off around the birth before returning to action at the RBC Canadian Open. He said he’ll likely tee it up at the Valero Texas Open next week (a win-and-you’re-in scenario for the Masters) unless he goes deep this week at the WGC-Match Play.
To do that, however, he’ll have to knock down a fellow Canadian first.
“It’ll be pretty fun. I’m sure all of Canada will be glued to the TV, “ Taylor said with a laugh, “at least a lot of Ledgeview members will be glued to the TV.”