Rory McIlroy defends WGC Match Play title as Jordan Spieth draws tough group
Published 22/03/2016 | 07:36
Defending champion Rory McIlroy will face Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen and American pair Kevin Na and Smylie Kaufman at this week's WGC-Dell Match Play.
And world number one Jordan Spieth was placed in an eye-catching group with 2014 runner-up Victor Dubuisson, Europe's Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson and breakthrough star Justin Thomas for the tournament in Austin, Texas.
The top 16 qualified players were each placed in a separate group, with the rest of the field split into three pools depending on their ranking and drawn at random. Players in e ach group play off in a round-robin format before the 16 winners advance to a knock-out stage.
McIlroy won last year's tournament with a 4&2 success over Gary Woodland in the final and will face a trio of relatively unheralded but talented opponents in this year's first stage.
Kaufman won October's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, where Na finished as runner-up for the second successive week.
Olesen has two top-10 finishes at majors but is ranked 66th in the world and was only handed his place in the 64-man field after the withdrawals of world numbers seven and 16 Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk.
McIlroy told a press conference screened live on worldgolfchampionships.com: "It's always good to come back to a tournament where you've had success. 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."
The winner will face off against the winner of Group 14 - Open Champion Zach Johnson, Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer or Marcus Fraser - in the last 16.
The in-form Adam Scott is in the same quarter of the draw, the Australian sharing Group 6 with Bill Haas, Chris Wood and Thomas Pieters.
Among Spieth's opponents, Dubuisson was second to Jason Day two years ago and Donaldson's superb approach shot put the seal on Europe's Ryder Cup win at Gleneagles the same year. Thomas won for the first time on the PGA Tour at November's CIMB Classic and also has two third-placed finishes this season.
Sheffield's Matthew Fitzpatrick faces a stern test against Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson in Group 9, with Louis Oosthuizen and Dustin Johnson the other top seeds in that quarter of the draw.
Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia are the top seeds in the third quarter, with 2013 US PGA champion Jason Dufner among Fowler's opponents while Garcia faces a tough group featuring Lee Westwood, Marc Leishman and Ryan Moore.
Jason Day faces Paul Casey, Thongchai Jaidee and Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose shares a group with Matt Kuchar, while Danny Willett and Brandt Snedeker are the other top seeds in the final quarter.
McIlroy begins his campaign against Olesen on Wednesday, while Spieth faces Donaldson in his opening match.
Other stand-out fixtures on the opening day include Garcia taking on Westwood, Fowler against Dufner, Day against McDowell and Fitzpatrick tackling Mickelson.