Rory McIlroy looks for confidence-boosting win ahead of Augusta
Defending champion Rory McIlroy can achieve a career milestone and set himself up perfectly for a much more important one in the WGC-Dell Match Play this week.
McIlroy has never successfully defended a title in his professional career and was famously prevented from even attempting to do so in last year's Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after suffering a serious ankle injury while playing football.
The world number three has made no secret of the fact that he wants a win under his belt before attempting to j oin Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in completing the career grand slam at the Masters.
And the 26-year-old feels his excellent match play record gives him a great chance of following the likes of Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Charl Schwartzel into the winner's circle in 2016 in his final competitive outing before heading to Augusta in a fortnight's time.
"It is important," McIlroy told a press conference after being drawn to face Kevin Na, Smylie Kaufman and Thorbjorn Olesen in the group stages at Austin Country Club.
" I've been saying all along since the start of the year I'd love to win before Augusta and this is my last chance to do that. And seeing the guys that have won, with Bubba in LA, Adam in those two starts in Florida, Charl in Tampa and Jason last week, everyone is running into good form.
"They are all good champions, a few of them are Masters champions. Everyone is playing well and that's really what you want to do. You want your game rounding into form and playing to the best of your abilities this time of year.
" I feel like I'm close. I'm probably not quite where they are and I haven't had the confidence of getting a win this year, but I feel like it's close. And this would obviously be a great week to get that win or at least get close to that win.
"If I can get a few really good matches under my belt and progress to the weekend and play some good golf, I feel that's all I need confidence-wise going into Augusta."
McIlroy completed a disappointing week in style with a closing 65 in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday and is relishing a rare match play event following his hard-fought success in San Francisco last year.
The four-time major winner was two down after 16 holes in his final group match with Billy Horschel before winning on the second extra hole, while he needed 22 holes to get the better of Paul Casey in their quarter-final.
" This tournament has gone through a few different venues (but) it doesn't change the fact that it is match play and you have to beat the person that's there in front of you," added McIlroy, who has won 24 of his 32 singles contests in various match play events.
" I feel like that has been the best approach for me in match play - the golf course is almost irrelevant, in a way. It's about playing the player that's in front of you there on the first tee.
" It's a sprint. It's 18 holes. You don't really have time to find your rhythm. You need to try to make birdies from the get-go. And that's the approach I've adopted the last few years. And I feel like my match play record for the most part speaks for itself. I've had a pretty good record since I've turned pro in this tournament and in the Ryder Cup as well."
Asked if he would prefer easy matches or a similarly tough route to the final this year, McIlroy added: "I think definitely it prepares you more for the final. It makes the final that little bit easier, because you've faced scenarios. Whether you've had to birdie the last two holes to win or win in extra holes, I think those experiences serve you well.
" It's a bit like in the early stages of a grand slam tennis tournament, if you see Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic taken to four or five sets, it's almost like it's good for them to take that experience and be challenged."
Group matches will be played on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and the winner of each group advances to the last 16 on Saturday morning, with the quarter-finals on Saturday afternoon. The semi-finals will be held on Sunday morning with the final and consolation match later the same day.
McIlroy, who will face Olesen on Wednesday, is seeded to meet Bay Hill winner Day in the semi-finals and cannot face world number one and Texas native Spieth until the final.