Both Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy enter the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship today reaching for their own specific handful of stars.
Ireland is well represented at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play as both Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy tee up with no shortage of motivation in Austin.
Lowry’s eyes are firmly fixed on remaining inside the world’s top-50 to guarantee his place in next week’s Masters tournament. The Clara golfer sits precariously in 48th position on the standings but remains a hot favourite to be making the drive down Magnolia Lane early next week with his family in tow.
15 players in the field are not already exempt for Augusta but few are realistic threats to Lowry. The likes of Jim Furyk (54th) and Lee Westwood (65th) can’t be discounted when it comes to potential apple-cart spoilers but if Lowry was to even win one match, his place in the Masters field should be all but reserved.
After being the upset winner over top seed Rory McIlroy back in 2013, however, Lowry has struggled in the event, failing to get out of group play in three previous tries. Yet drawn alongside a struggling Patrick Reed who drafted in a swing coach last week in Tampa, an inconsistentSergio Garcia who admittedly thrives in a matchplay environment, and a rookie in Andrew Putnam, Lowry’s hopes should be amplified entering the event.
The fact that this is not a normal field also plays in his favour with nobody outside the top-64 capable of leapfrogging the Offaly man. Let’s hope he can put the bigger picture out of his head and perhaps draw on his Irish Amateur Close victory over Niall Turner (4&3) in 2007 as a source of inspiration to ensure a precious Masters’ invite doesn’t pass him by.
At the other end of the spectrum, the friend he defeated back in 2013, Rory McIlroy returns to the Dell capable of reclaiming his number one spot in the world.
Permutations are aplenty for that to happen; Rors needs to win, DJ fail to reach the last-four and Justin Rose has to fall short of the podium but given the form of all three entering the tournament, that’s not beyond the realms of possibility.
McIlroy’s win at Sawgrass saw him move up the fourth in the rankings but he’s not alone in eyeing top spot, with DJ, Rose, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas all capable of becoming top-dog should the cards fall their way this week at Austin Country Club.
For McIlroy’s part in the puzzle, he’ll be licking his lips at a favourable draw that sees him pitted against Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List. It’s an event McIlroy has proved himself quite adept in and the Holywood star even claimed the title in 2015.
With only 16 group winners advancing to the knockout rounds, expect the competition to come quick and fierce for both Lowry and McIlroy.
There’s no shortage of motivation for either and let’s hope both our star performers can go deep into the tournament to realise their respective goals.
IRISH TEE TIMES (Irish time)
Rory McIlroy – 6.22pm
Shane Lowry – 7.39pm