(Reuters) – World number one Dustin Johnson has the hottest hand in golf and will need to keep that form heading into Wednesday’s WGC-Dell Match Play tournament after being grouped with a trio of major champions.
Johnson, who has won on his last two starts, has been placed in a group with U.S. PGA Championship title holder Jimmy Walker, twice major winner Martin Kaymer and former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.
They represent one of 16 four-player groups that will play round-robin matches from Wednesday through Friday at the Austin Country Club with the winners of each group advancing to a single-elimination bracket at the weekend.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in the game,” Johnson. “I feel like I’m controlling my ball very well and I feel I’m starting to drive a little straighter.”
Defending champion Jason Day and Marc Leishman, fresh off a victory at Bay Hill, are the two Australians in the event and they have been grouped with England’s Lee Westwood and American Pat Perez.
The winner of their group will face one of Phil Mickelson, J.B. Holmes, Daniel Berger or South Korean Kim Si-woo.
“When it comes time to play match play you’ve just got to go out and try and beat them,” said world number three Day. “You’re not really friends for 18 holes and then when you get off the course you’re back to being mates.”
Rory McIlroy, who lost to Day in last year’s semi-final but replaced the Australian as world number two this week, has been impressive since returning from a rib injury, finishing in a tie for seventh and share of fourth in his last two tournaments.
The 27-year-old Northern Irishman is grouped with Argentine Emiliano Grillo, American Gary Woodland and Dane Soren Kjeldsen.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama has one of the most difficult draws as he will face South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, who is 13-3 in this event over the last three years, veteran American Jim Furyk and Britain’s Ross Fisher, who tied for third at the WGC-Mexico.
Should Matsuyama advance from the group stage, he could face twice U.S. Masters winner Bubba Watson in the round of 16, twice major winner and former world number one Jordan Spieth in the quarter-finals and Johnson in the semi-finals.
With only two weeks to go until the Masters, only four of the world’s top 50 golfers have opted to skip this event to prioritize their preparations for the year’s first major.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Nick Mulvenney)