PGA Tour players have voted to maintain the format which could see Tiger Woods take on Rory McIlroy in the last 16 of this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Woods and McIlroy will meet in the knockout stages if they can progress from their respective groups at Austin Country Club, with Woods up against Aaron Wise, Patrick Cantlay and Brandt Snedeker and McIlroy facing Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Harding and Luke List.
The group stage was introduced in 2015 and ensured star players would be in action for at least three days rather than potentially crashing out on Wednesday morning, but the tournament sponsors had proposed doubling the group-stage qualifiers to 32 before 36 holes of stroke-play competition over the weekend.
Woods told reporters: “This format is a little different for me, a new event, a new format. But it’s not really complicated – play well and take care of the bloke in front of you.”
According to a memo sent to players, the Tour’s Player Advisory Council (PAC) “was not supportive of the proposed format change”, but will continue to discuss alternative options.
“There’s really only two formats,” PAC member Paul Casey told Golf Channel. “If you want to introduce stroke play then you make it as it is in a lot of amateur match-play events and have a stroke-play qualifier and then a match-play knockout.
“Or go straight knockout, 64 guys. To me, that’s my thought on it and the vast majority of players seem to think that way.”
One suggestion is to use a nine-hole loop at Austin Country Club which runs alongside the Colorado River and provides the most scenic views.
“Maybe you have a stroke-play qualifier and get down to 16 or 32 guys and then you use a nine-hole loop,” added Casey, who faces Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, Australian Cameron Smith and American Charles Howell in Group 10.
“You’d play 18 holes, but those big structures that you only see on a Saturday or a Sunday for 20 minutes and then it’s gone, you’d loop around a couple of times. There’s some outside the box thinking going on, which I quite like.”
Woods has won the Match Play title three times but has not appeared in the event since losing to Howell in 2013, one of three first-round defeats he suffered under the old format.
McIlroy lifted the trophy in 2015 and reached the semi-finals the following year, but has failed to advance beyond the group stages since.
However, the four-time major winner comes into the week buoyed by his win in the Players Championship at Sawgrass as he continues his build-up to the Masters at Augusta National, where victory would make him only the sixth player to complete a career grand slam.
McIlroy has not thought too much about returning to the top of the world.
He told the Telegraph: “No, not really (when asked if it was a big thing). The big thing is winning my match tomorrow. That’s the first step in the process and if I win seven matches this week, then awesome.
“But, again, winning tournaments, getting No 1, all those accolades, it’s a by-product of doing all the little things right. Step by step they will add up to all that stuff that other people find important.”