AUSTIN — Rory McIlroy is coming off his first win in 18 months. Jordan Speith is returning to what is basically a second hometown.
Neither one is picking favorites.
As the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gets underway at Austin Country Club this week, both players figure to be two of the favorites among the 64 golfers in the most unique PGA Tour event of the year.
“It's hard to pick a favorite,” McIlroy said. “You've got the guys that are playing well, they're going to be hard to beat. And the guys that have played well at this golf course before. I don't know, really, it would be like picking a name out of a hat to try to choose a sleeper for you.”
There are 16 pods of four players in the bracket and one golfer will advance after three days of play beginning Wednesday morning. The round of 16 and quarterfinals will take place on Saturday and the semifinals and finals — along with a 3rd place match — will happen on Sunday.
McIlroy will face off with Brian Harman, former Texas golfer Jhonattan Vegas and Peter Uihlein in pool play.
World No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson is grouped up with Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin and Bernd Wiesberger. Masters champion Sergio Garcia is in a pod with Xander Schauffele, Shubhankar Sharma and Dylan Frittelli, another former Longhorn in the field.
Jordan Spieth is in a group with Haotong Li, Charl Schwartzel and Patrick Reed, who he played with during a memorable Ryder Cup match in which he and the U.S. beat Europe at Hazeltine in 2016.
Spieth and Reed will face off at 1:32 p.m. on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Spieth said. “He has a great match play record. I’ve seen it firsthand when he’s been at his best. So it will be an exciting afternoon. I’ve got to take care of work tomorrow and the next day for that to even matter.
“But even if it doesn’t matter, trust me, it will matter to both of us.”
With the Masters just two weeks away, both Speith and McIlroy had plenty to say about Augusta National.
With Tiger Woods finishing in the top 10 at the Valspar Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational the last two weeks, the former No. 1 has jumped up the board and is currently the betting favorite to win the Green Jacket.
Spieth said he hasn’t been an underdog headed to Augusta since 2014 when he was a rookie and finished in a tie for second place.
“I think must have been a month or two ago, I might have been there tied for the favorite with (Johnson), now I'm not even on the board,” he said. “The storylines heading into this year's Masters are as exciting as they've been in a long time. We're not absent to that, we obviously realize that. It's more incentive to want to be a part of that mix Sunday.”
McIlroy made some tweaks with his putting game last week and used a final round 8-under 64 to pick up his first PGA Tour victory since the 2016 Tour Championship.
PGA Tour veteran Brad Faxon brought up the idea of what ticks players from every sport have before a routine. McIlroy brought up English soccer player Wayne Rooney, who he noticed tapped his toe before taking a penalty.
He couldn’t put a finger on what his trigger is, but his game is rounding into form as he looks to become the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam in two weeks.
“I've had three goes at winning the slam,” McIlroy said. “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.”