Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy hope to renew acquaintances in Sunday’s finale of the Match Play Championship but this week’s top two seeds will have to battle through several rounds to make it to the head-to-head showdown golf fans hope to see.
No. 2 seed Woods will take on an old nemesis in Charles Howell III in the first round at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain outside Tucson, Ariz. The two golfers last met in match play in the quarterfinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, which Woods won.
In an all-Irish duel, McIlroy will play old friend Shane Lowry, who drew No. 1 (in the world and in this week’s tilt) when Brandt Snedeker’s injury forced his withdrawal and Fredrik Jacobson climbed the world rankings after finishing T3 at last week’s Northern Trust Open.
Ok so looks like I'm playing número UNO in the first round. Gonna be great. Win, lose or draw I'm gonna enjoy every minute of it.— Shane Lowry (@shanelowrygolf) February 18, 2013
Question marks surround McIlroy, who’s been MIA from competitive golf since missing the cut in Abu Dhabi last month. The two-time major champ will enter the fray hoping to reverse the trend of the top seeds bowing out in the opening rounds in two of the last three years. To do that, he’ll have to get by his former European Amateur Championship and Horizon Sports Management teammate.
“I’d enjoy playing Rory,” Lowry told The Telegraph before learning he would indeed meet McIlroy rather than Woods in the first round.
“I would be intimidated if I played Tiger,” Lowry said. “Since I started golf, it’s always been Tiger who’s been the greatest. Standing on that first tee against him would be nerve-racking. But I would have to get that out of my system early and put aside being in awe of him, for at least five hours anyway.”
Lowry acknowledged that McIlroy would enter the tourney with the weight of his most recent performance on his shoulders but he expected his long-time pal to overcome any such tensions.
“There probably is a bit of pressure on him, what with the change of clubs and having not played for a month since missing the cut at Abu Dhabi,” said Lowry, who has never played against his friend in competition. “But Rory is Rory – he’s still the best in the world.”
Other intriguing first-round match-ups include defending champion Hunter Mahan vs. Matteo Manassero, Bill Haas vs. Nicolas Colsaerts, and another battle featuring Irish compatriots Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington.
Click here for SBNation's complete Match Play Championship bracket.