Time for some advice to pick your bracket

February, 21, 2012
The odds of picking a perfect NCAA tournament bracket are more than 9 quintillion to 1.

Trivia question

Jeff Maggert won the inaugural WGC Match Play tournament in 1999. Whom did he defeat in the final? (Answer below)

Mathematically, the odds of picking the WGC-Accenture Match Play in perfect fashion are similar. Realistically, it might be 1 in 9 quintillion quintillions.

Where the NCAA tournament follows some pretty consistent historical trends, golf's big bracket is much more of a crapshoot. Since 1985, No. 16 seeds are 0-for-108 in the NCAA tournament's round of 64. No. 16 seeds in the round of 64 in the Match Play tournament, on the other hand, are 15-for-52. That's a win percentage of 28.8 -- higher than that of No. 4 seeds in hoops (21.3).

Some other numbers about the WGC-Match Play you need to know before filling out your bracket:

-- No. 10 seeds are historically favorites over 7 seeds. Since the inception of the Match Play tournament in 1999, No. 10 seeds have won their opening match over 7-seeds 55.8 percent of the time. Since 2004, that number is a startling 75.0 percent (a record of 24-8). Your 10-seeds this week are Mark Wilson (who won in Hawaii a few weeks back), John Senden, Aaron Baddeley and Martin Laird.

-- A No. 1 seed is going down early. Every year since 2006, at least one No. 1 seed has been knocked off in the opening round. Last year, it was Tiger Woods, who lost to Thomas Bjorn in 19 holes. In 2002, three No. 1 seeds lost: Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Since 2006, only twice has a 1-seed even advanced to the "Final Four." Martin Kaymer did it last year, and Woods did it in 2008.

-- The numbers say being a top-four seed matters. In the 13-year history of this event, the top-four seeds have been upset in the opening round much less than seeds 5 through 8. Seeds 1-4 lose their opening-round match 30.3 percent of the time. Seeds 5-8 lose those matches 49.5 percent of the time. Looking at it even closer, No. 4 seeds have been beaten 12 times in the opening round. 5-seeds? More than double that -- 25 times (48.1 percent).

The 5-seeds this week who likely disapprove of that statistic are Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Woods.

-- Pick a 3-seed to lose in the first round. In 11 of the 13 previous times this tournament was held, a 3-seed was upset by a 14-seed at least once. On the whole, 14-seeds have a win percentage of 30.8 (16-for-52). Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell and last week's dramatic winner, Bill Haas, are your 3-seeds on alert.

-- There have been at least 11 opening-round upsets every year. You probably have noticed a theme at this point: picking all chalk likely will leave you disappointed on the weekend. Each year, there has been at least 11 upsets (based on seeding) in the round of 64. In the NCAA tournament last year, there were seven such upsets in the round of 64.

-- If picking an NCAA bracket is impossible, what is this? Teams are upset in the opening round of the Division I Men's Basketball Tournament 24.9 percent of the time. That number in this tournament? 39.9 percent. Among the top-three seeds, the difference is even starker. Top-three seeds lose in the NCAA tournament just 6.2 percent of the time. At the Match Play, it's 32.7 percent.

And where there's a pattern in upset percentage in the tourney, there isn't much of one 13 years into this event. No. 10 seeds have the highest win percentage among underdogs, while 4-seeds (23.1) lose less than 1-seeds (28.8). Compare that to the Big Dance -- where the upset percentage climbs steadily from 16 (0.0) to 9 (52.8).

So if you've got a friendly office pool going this week, good luck. The numbers say you'll need it.

Don't look now, but American golf is back on the rise. American players have won each of the first seven events on the PGA Tour this year -- the first time that has happened since 2001, when American players won eight in a row to start the season.

Trivia answer

Question: Jeff Maggert won the inaugural WGC Match Play tournament in 1999. Whom did he defeat in the final?

Answer: Andrew Magee

Part of that could be attributed to the strong European Tour fields during the "desert swing" -- prominent events held at Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar. But let's not short-change the beleaguered American golfers on this early-season achievement.

For the first time in the history of the WGC-Match Play tournament, each of the top seeds is from outside the United States. So can the streak continue for the Americans? Consider this additional note on 1-seeds: Only 11 of the 52 players to advance to the semifinals were top seeds in the tournament. There have been multiple 1-seeds in the semis only twice -- in 2000 and 2004.

Win No. 8 for the Americans could be on the horizon.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.





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