Saturday 10 December 2016

Heavyweights McIlroy and Spieth aim to pack a punch

William S Callahan

Published 29/04/2015 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy's best year at the WGC-Cadillac Championship was in 2012 when he reached the final only to lose 2&1 to Hunter Mahan
Rory McIlroy's best year at the WGC-Cadillac Championship was in 2012 when he reached the final only to lose 2&1 to Hunter Mahan

World ranking points and bookmakers' support combine to make Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth the strong favourites for the WGC-Cadillac Championship which starts at TPC Harding Park, San Francisco today.

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But matchplay, dubbed by Ian Poulter as the 'pure form of golf' has a way of upsetting all the odds and despite the new format, which keeps each of the 64 players in the field until Friday at least, there are no guarantees of survival through to the weekend.

McIlroy, who opens with a Group One match against No 53 seed Jason Dufner at 10.30pm Irish time, has previously played seven times in this championship under various formats. His best year was 2012 when he reached the final only to lose 2&1 to Hunter Mahan.

No matter how he performs in the first three rounds, McIlroy is set to make a 570-mile dash by private jet to Las Vegas to watch the Manny Pacquiao v Floyd Mayweather fight on Saturday night.

McIlroy's 26th birthday is on Monday, May 4, and he could hardly celebrate in a better way than by mixing the serious business of golf with the pleasure of attending one of the world's most eagerly-awaited sporting occasions.

Spieth made his debut in the championship last year and went to the quarter-finals where he came a cropper against Ernie Els.

The new Masters champion will get a good test today against reigning Irish Open champion Mikko Ilonen of Finland, who also won the World Match Play last year at the London Club in Kent.

Ilonen defeated Henrik Stenson in the final to crown a memorable year. Stenson (2007) is one of five former WGC-Cadillac winners in the field for Harding Park.

The others are holder Jason Day, Matt Kuchar (2013), Mahan (2012) and Poulter (2010).

Poulter relishes the man-to-man combat of matchplay and was bullish about this week.

"Looks like a strong matchplay group... Will make for some good passion and excitement. Pure form of golf. Head-to-Head. Let's do this," he tweeted after the draw placed him in Group 11 with Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson and Gary Woodland.

Irish interest centres on McIlroy, but also on the fortunes of former US Open champion Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, who tee off at 9.40pm Irish time.

Friendship will be set aside as they go into battle in Group 13, which also features Rickie Fowler playing Harris English today.

McDowell's approach will be to do his best to treat Lowry as just another opponent and keep the pedal to the metal over these three days of group matches.

"You need to not worry too much about all the permutations. Just get your head down and try to put your points on the board," said McDowell. "There's a lot of 'ifs.' You just have to go out and take care of yourself."

WGC-Cadillac World Match Play Championship, Live SS4, 9.0pm

Irish Independent

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