McIlroy and Johnson ready to meet in dream final
Rory given generous draw
Sky Sports 4, 6pm Wednesday
Tournament starts 2.30pm (UK & Ireland)
Palmer's top tip
Rory McIlroy 15-2
Six weeks on the sidelines recovering from a rib stress fracture was not in the script for Rory McIlroy and there were concerns it would ruin his Masters hopes, but a hugely encouraging weekend at Bay Hill has put a spring back in the Northern Irishman's step.
McIlroy found top gear over the final two rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, firing 14 birdies and going ten under par to finish in fourth place.
His weekend brilliance was three shots superior to anyone else in the field, a class animal asserting himself as conditions got tougher at a drying track.
McIlroy can be confident with Augusta approaching, but first the focus is the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a tournament he won in fine style in 2015. McIlroy's matchplay record is fantastic and the former world number one can be expected to go deep in the event again.
McIlroy has a 67 per cent winning record in singles matchplay as a professional, excelling in the WGC, in which he has won 22 of his 31 matches. The powerhouse was runner-up in 2012 and is an intimidating opponent for anybody.
A glorious Tour Championship and FedEx Cup triumph at the end of September was followed by some magnificent golf in the Ryder Cup, and McIlroy seems to be close to rediscovering that level of performance.
McIlroy does not make many visits to Texas, but seems to enjoy himself when he does. He was runner-up in the 2013 Texas Open and seventh in the 2014 Houston Open, closing with a 65, the best score of the day.
In last year's Match Play at Austin Country Club, McIlroy progressed unbeaten from his group, then beat Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk before losing one-down to eventual champion Jason Day in an epic semi-final.
Five significant absentees make McIlroy's job easier this week. Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose do not fancy the gig, while in-form Canadian Adam Hadwin is getting married on Friday. Throw Rory's peach of a draw into calculations and he fully deserves the short price next to his name.
McIlroy will start as strong favourite against Soren Kjeldsen, Gary Woodland and Emiliano Grillo in his group, then one of Branden Grace, Brandt Snedeker or Andy Sullivan would be waiting at the last-16 stage. A potential quarter-final meeting with Sergio Garcia may prove the toughest obstacle on route to the final.
Dustin Johnson 10-1
Local man Jordan Spieth and Ryder Cup star Ryan Moore are both well suited to this challenge, and both won three matches at Austin CC last year.
Spieth and Moore were on the shortlist until the draw was made on Monday night and they were put in the same group. One will almost certainly progress to the knockout stages, but it is impossible to be confident about either.
The early Spieth versus Moore collision increases the chances of the tournament sponsors getting their dream final. Dustin Johnson could easily be waiting for McIlroy in the Sunday showpiece.
The best players seem to thrive in this event, holding a psychological edge in head-to-head combat.
One of the top-two seeds has made the final in four of the last six stagings of the WGC-Match Play. The number one seed has won four times since 2003 and ten of the last 14 winners were seeded ninth or better.
Johnson won the WGC-Mexico Championship last time out despite missing 16 putts inside ten feet. His long-game quality has become nothing short of awesome. Prior to Mexico, DJ cruised to victory in the Genesis Open by five shots, and trophies are coming easy to the world number one.
Johnson loves Texas – he can boast seven top-eight finishes in the Lone Star State in US Tour strokeplay competition – and he lost in the quarter-finals at Austin CC last year to eventual runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.
Johnson, who has won all three of his Ryder Cup singles, can dominate his group against Webb Simpson, Martin Kaymer and Jimmy Walker.
Patrick Reed 45-1
The fly in the ointment to the McIlroy versus Johnson final could be Patrick Reed. A heavyweight quarter-final meeting between Johnson and Reed could be in the offing.
Reed is a matchplay master who has turned into Superman in the last two Ryder Cups. There is every chance he will shrug off indifferent recent form and come alive in his favourite form of the game.
Reed, a Texan playing in his home state this week, has won ten of 16 singles matches in the WGC, the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He lost by a shot in the Texas Open last year and is likely to be relishing this event. He cruised through his WGC group with three wins last year before losing to Johnson in the round of 16.
Others to note
Tidy Englishman has finished 16th and 13th in his last two US Tour starts and is a former US Amateur champion who has proven his matchplay ability.
WGC champion in two of the last three years and victorious 12 months ago despite suffering with back problems. Has started this term poorly, though, and looks vulnerable.
Seasoned Ryder Cup performer who enjoys this format. Has started the season brightly, but will not have been thrilled with his draw.
Garcia has been drawn alongside his talented fellow Spaniard Rahm in Group Seven, hindering the chances of both.
Last year's runner-up must be considered, but being drawn in the same group as Hideki Matsuyama means progression to the knockout stages is far from certain.
The Belgian bomber competes in matchplay for the first time since his heroic Ryder Cup debut. Could face Spieth or Moore in the quarter-finals.
4pts 15-2 Betfair, Betfred
3pts 10-1 Betfair, Betfred
1pt 45-1 Betfred
WGC-Dell Match Play Championship lowdown
Course Austin Country Club, Austin, Texas
Prize money $9.75m ($1.62m to the winner)
Length 7,108 yards Par 71 Field 64
Format Round-robin format in the opening stage to keep everyone involved until Friday night. Players are in 16 four-man groups of 18-hole matchplay, with the group winners moving into a weekend knockout competition.
The player with the best W-D-L record (most points) wins the group and matches can be halved (one point for win, half-point for draw).
In the event of ties for first place in a group, sudden-death playoffs take place for the last-16 spots. The top 16 in the world rankings are top seeds in each of the 16 groups.
A draw on Monday completed the sections. There are 32 group matches today, 32 tomorrow and 32 on Friday. The last-16 matches and quarter-finals are on Saturday, with the semi-finals, consolation (third-place) match and final on Sunday
Tournament record Tiger Woods beat Stephen Ames 9&8 (2006 first round)
Last week – Arnold Palmer Invitational 1 M Leishman (100-1), T2 K Kisner (66-1), C Hoffman (125-1), T4 R McIlroy (7-1), T Hatton (45-1), 6 A Hadwin (66-1)
Course overview TPC Harding Park in California took over from The Golf Club at Dove Mountain as the host venue in 2015, but Harding Park was axed immediately, with Austin Country Club handed the reins. Dell took over from Cadillac as the new sponsors of a tournament which was the Accenture for 14 years.
The straight-knockout format was dropped for the first time in 2015, replaced by three days of group competition. The course at Austin Country Club was designed by Pete Dye and opened in 1984.
It features deep pot bunkers, heavily undulating turf, dramatic fairway falls, creeks, canyons and forced carries. There are some short par-fours which are reachable by big-hitters. The back nine borders on Lake Austin, with watery graves everywhere you turn. Last year was the first US Tour event to be staged at ACC.
Story of last year Jason Day overcame back problems to become Match Play king for a second time, edging Rory McIlroy in the semi-finals before thrashing Louis Oosthuizen in the final.
Weather forecast Sunny for the most part, but Friday morning could see a thunderstorm. Moderate afternoon breezes.
Type of player suited to challenge A bank of experience in competitive matchplay golf, whether it be in this event, the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup, EurAsia Cup or the World Match Play on the European circuit, is an advantage.
Two big-hitters made the final last year and certain sections of the course can be overpowered, but keeping your ball in play is the key to success.
Key attribute Accuracy.