McIlroy marches on to Match Play in buoyant mood
Austin, Texas, March 21: Rory McIlroy is relishing a change of format at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play just days after storming to victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The Northern Irishman carded a flawless eight-under-par 64 at Bay Hill to surge to a three-stroke victory over American Bryson DeChambeau after trailing by two shots heading into the final round.
It was the first time McIlroy had tasted victory since September 2016 and his chances of extending that winning feeling look in good stead as he arrives at the Austin Country Club with a strong history at the tournament.
The 28-year-old won the event in 2015 and was runner-up in 2012, while he also recorded fourth and fifth-placed finishes during his career and hopes he can cap off his tenth appearance at the competition with a second successive triumph.
McIlroy will, of course, have to overcome the rest of the world’s best in Austin, with 64 of the top 70 players on the planet set to lock horns in the head-to-head format. Dustin Johnson will defend the title he won in style against Jon Rahm last year.
“It’s good to be back at the match play. I’ve always enjoyed this format. I’ve always enjoyed this tournament, whether it was in Arizona, San Francisco, here in Austin. I’ve enjoyed it,” said McIlroy.
“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good record. I’ve got to the final once. I won once. I got to the semi-final here a couple of years ago. So I’ve had a couple of deep runs in the tournament. And hopefully, I can do that again this week.
“I’ve always liked this tournament because it’s the least pressured event of the year because anyone can beat anyone in 18 holes. The field is the top guys in the world. You don’t have any easy matches.
“I’m very happy to have my game in this shape going into the first major of the year. Even if I hadn’t won last week, just to see the signs that my golf game was in good shape would be good enough to me knowing that going into Augusta I was ready to play well.
“I’ve had three goes at winning the slam. This will be my fourth. I’d had maybe 12 or 13 majors before I won my first one. So you could say that the first one was maybe a little bit harder. I just needed a few more chances.
“But I only get one opportunity a year at Augusta. The last three years have gone okay. I’ve played well. Not well enough. And hopefully, I put the last piece of the puzzle in there this year and get it done.”
The 64-man field is split into 16 groups of four, with each player playing three matches from Wednesday to Friday before the tournament moves into a straight knock-out over the weekend.
Among the most mouth-watering matches on day one are Tommy Fleetwood taking on Ian Poulter, Race to Dubai Number One Shubhanker Sharma facing Sergio Garcia, Bernd Wiesberger going up against World Number One Johnson, and McIlroy taking on Peter Uilhein.