Bullish McIlroy out to join select WGC Match Play club
Rory McIlroy has the chance to move closer to a Tiger Woods record at the WGC-Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas this week.
The 64-man shootout begins a four-year stint at the Austin Country Club this year, with the group-stage, introduced in 2015, set to return again.
Defending champion McIlroy has been grouped with Kevin Na, Smylie Kaufman and Thorbjorn Olesen and will be looking to become just the third man to win the tournament more than once. Woods has three titles to his name, claiming back-to-back in 2003 and 2004, while Geoff Ogilvy did so in 2006 and 2009.
World number one Jordan Spieth faces a testing group with Ryder Cup pair Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson lurking.
Only Jim Furyk (16) and Henrik Stenson (7) from the Official World Golf Ranking's top 64 names have opted out of the tournament, opening the door for Olesen and Patton Kizzire.
High winds are expected throughout the tournament's five days, which could add to the chances of an upset.
KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE
As well as Dubuisson and Donaldson, Spieth will take on one of his dearest friends in Group 1, Justin Thomas.
The pair have been close since their days as juniors and have already taken to the course together to play a practice round against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Spieth reportedly sunk the winning shot on a course he is familiar with from his days at the University of Texas.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the jovial atmosphere could come from 2014 runner-up Dubuisson, who caught the eye at the WGC-Cadillac Championship with a furious on-course tantrum after an underwhelming performance in Doral.
CAN SCOTT TURN HISTORY ON ITS HEAD?
Victory in Doral a week after tasting glory at the Honda Classic has put Adam Scott firmly back in the spotlight, but the Australian's match play record leaves much to be desired.
Since a run to the final four in 2003, where he lost to eventual champion Woods, Scott has won just eight of his 21 matches in this tournament. His last victory came all the way back in 2010.
A tied-12th finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which featured some wayward efforts off the tee, suggested Scott may be tiring and Bill Haas is in his group after beating Brendon Todd and Stenson in last year's event.
MCILROY FEELING GOOD
McIlroy won all seven of his ties last year to take home the Walter Hagen Cup and is unbeaten in singles matches at the Ryder Cup, leaving the Ulsterman understandably upbeat.
"It's always good to come back to a tournament where you've had success," McIlroy said.
"I feel like my match play record speaks for itself, I've had a good record in this tournament and in the Ryder Cup as well.
"Kevin I've played in this tournament before, maybe in 2010, and he's playing very well, he's had a great year.
"Thorbjorn is a good friend, I've known him a long time playing on the European Tour, and Smylie I really don't know much about, but he's got off to a great start in his PGA Tour career."
WGC-Dell Match Play groups:
Group 1: Jordan Spieth (USA), Justin Thomas (USA), Victor Dubuisson (Fra), Jamie Donaldson (Wal)
Group 2: Jason Day (Aus), Paul Casey (Eng), Thongchai Jaidee (Tha), Graeme McDowell (NIr)
Group 3: Rory McIlroy (NIr), Kevin Na (USA), Smylie Kaufman (USA), Thorbjorn Olesen (Den)
Group 4: Bubba Watson (USA), JB Holmes (USA), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Patton Kizzire (USA)
Group 5: Rickie Fowler (USA), Byeong-Hun An (Kor), Scott Piercy (USA), Jason Dufner (USA)
Group 6: Adam Scott (Aus), Bill Haas (USA), Chris Wood (Eng), Thomas Pieters (Ger)
Group 7: Justin Rose (Eng), Matt Kuchar (USA), Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Fabian Gomez (Arg)
Group 8: Dustin Johnson (USA), Jimmy Walker (USA), Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha), Robert Streb (USA)
Group 9: Patrick Reed (USA), Phil Mickelson (USA), Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng), Daniel Berger (USA)
Group 10: Danny Willett (USA), Brooks Koepka (USA), Billy Horschel (USA), Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa)
Group 11: Branden Grace (Rsa), Russell Knox (Sco), David Lingmerth (Swe), Chris Kirk (USA)
Group 12: Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Kevin Kisner (USA), Soren Kjeldsen (Den), Rafa Cabrera Bello (Esp)
Group 13: Sergio Garcia (Esp), Marc Leishman (Aus), Ryan Moore (USA), Lee Westwood (ENG)
Group 14: Zach Johnson (USA), Shane Lowry (Irl), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Marcus Fraser (Aus)
Group 15: Brandt Snedeker (USA), Charl Schwartzel (Rsa), Danny Lee (NZl), Charley Hoffman (USA)
Group 16: Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Andy Sullivan (Eng), Bernd Wiesberger (Aut), Matt Jones (Aus)