Woods to open Match Play against rookie of year
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tiger Woods is at another new golf course for a World Golf Championships event and faces another player he doesn’t know.
Woods, who arrived Monday and played nine holes at Austin Country Club, opens the Dell Technologies Match Play against Aaron Wise, an NCAA champion from Oregon and the PGA Tour rookie of the year.
Wise will be the 21st player who had never played with Woods since he returned from back surgeries that kept him out of golf for most of two years.
The last time Woods played in this fickle event was in 2013 in the high desert of Arizona when the Match Play was single elimination. The only three-time winner, Woods was beaten in the first round by Charles Howell III.
Now it features 16 four-man groups, round-robin play Wednesday through Friday, with the winner from each group advancing to the knockout stage over the weekend.
The 64-man field based on the world ranking from two weeks ago was divided by their seeds to determine who went into the top 16 groups — Nos. 17-32, Nos. 33-48 and Nos. 49-64 — and it was a lottery to see which player went into each group.
There still was very little intrigue.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 seed for the third straight year, has Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace and Chez Reavie. Johnson, who won the last World Golf Championship in Mexico City last month, opens with Reavie, who needs to advance out of group play to have any chance of cracking the top 50 in the world to get into the Masters.
Rory McIlroy, who won The Players Championship two weeks ago and has yet to finish worse than a tie for sixth this year, has Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List, the last player to get into the field.
One group has nothing but major champions. Jason Day, the No. 12 seed, drew Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk. Mickelson and Stenson meet on Wednesday, only the second time they have played together since Stenson won their duel at Royal Troon in the 2016 British Open.
The only drama late in the selection process was when Jordan Spieth in the “B” group as the No. 28 seed had yet to be taken, and Patrick Reed from the “A” group as the No. 16 seed was still available. Reed beat Spieth last year to advance out of group play, and they were split up as Ryder Cup partners in France, which led Reed to complain that Spieth was behind the split.
Alas, Spieth’s number was called to play with Bubba Watson, the No. 15 seed and the defending champion of a tournament he really doesn’t like all that much.
“I vote every year not to have Match Play because I feel like I have a better chance in 72 holes than do I individual, because we have seen every year a guy shoot in the 60s and lose and then we see a guy shoot in the 70s and win,” Watson said Sunday. “And it’s like, ‘Wait a second, how fair is this?'”