Rory McIlroy won his group and is now in the last 16 of the WGC World Matchplay. However, Jordan Spieth has not made the knockout rounds so the dream final between the two best players in the world will be put on hold for 12 months at least. Spieth is the Masters champion and that is the one major McIlroy requires to complete the career Grand Slam.

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McIlroy’s Career Grand Slam

McIlroy is trying to join the giants of the game who have won each major. Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the only players to have won all four majors at least once. Nicklaus and Woods are the only players in that quintet to have won each major at least three times. Over 2000 and 2001 Tiger became the only player in history to hold all four Majors at the same time.

McIlroy is almost 26 years of age and only Woods and Nicklaus completed the set at a younger age. The Irish player won last season’s British Open and USPGA but could not emulate Woods in winning three majors in succession at Augusta. A player’s career is measured in the number of majors won and that is why Nicklaus and Woods are seen as the two best golfers to have played the game. Nicklaus himself believes McIlroy can win 15 to 20 majors.

Spieth broke several records at the Masters, including joint lowest score and the highest tally of birdies in the history of the tournament. He is the latest blue eyed boy of American golf. Some pundits are suggesting he is the true world number one as he has won twice on the PGA Tour in 2015 while McIlroy is yet to win in the States. However, the world rankings do not lie and McIlroy won two majors last year.

World Matchplay Knockout Rounds

In the past the WGC event has had a single elimination format. However, the players were not too keen as they could travel long distances only to be knocked out after 18 holes. Everyone now played at least until Friday in the new group format. There were 16 groups of four players with one player from each of four top 16 bands in the world rankings. The brackets are fixed for the elimination rounds.

One notable absentee is Woods who has not qualified for the first time since 1999 due to his position in the rankings. The top 64 players qualify and Woods is at 166 in the standings. Phil Mickelson withdrew for personal reasons which meant Francesco Molinari was the lowest ranked player in the field. The event is the only one of four WGC competitions played in the match play format as the other three are stroke play championships.

One round was played on each of the first three days and the winner of each group qualified for the knockout stages of the competition. The groups were played in a round robin format leading to elimination rounds which culminate in the final over 36 holes on Sunday. The last 16 and quarters are held today and the semis and the final and 3rd/4th match are played on Sunday. All the matches are over 18 holes except the final. For punters this event remains a frustrating mixture of the expected and unexpected.

WGC Matchplay Stats

Individual matches throw up relatively few shocks but players starting at 100/1 or over have historically accounted for little more than half the field yet have produced nine of twenty semi-finalists over the last five years. Only two players from the top 10 in the world rankings won their group and seven from the top twenty. Eleven of the 16 group winners are undefeated to date and the other five have lost just one match.

Only Woods and Geoff Ogilvy are multiple winners and only Woods has won back-to-back. Jason Day is the defending champion but he did not progress from his group. Only Hunter Mahan of the former winners is still competing and he plays John Senden today, the lowest ranked player in the field. The last sixteen is made up of five players from the States, five from Europe, and six from the rest of world. McIlroy at number one in the world is obviously the highest ranked player still in the draw.

McIlroy is the favourite to win the Matchplay and the shortest price to qualify for the next round. However, Hideki Matsuyama his next opponent should not be underestimated as he is tipped to be the first Asian player to win a major championship. At number 16 in the word statistically Matsuyama is the fifth best player still in the tournament. On the basis of the standings the most even matches bring together Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes and Paul Casey and Marc Leishman.

No Top Two Players Final

Who is the world’s best player?

The final that the golfing world craved will not happen as Lee Westwood beat Spieth in the crucial match in their last match of the round robin format. The problem with that perfect scenario is that major champions do not have a great record in this event. Woods has won three but matchplay brings high risk and in many instances the best player will not progress. Westwood’s chip in at 16 was key to the outcome of his win against Spieth.

To add to the uncertainty of the week the event has moved to a new venue. TPC Harding Park hosted a stroke play WGC event in 2005 and the Presidents Cup in 2009. The course was renovated at the start of the last decade and it is relatively flat and tree–lined along the shore of Lake Merced. In the future the venue will stage the 2020 PGA Championship and 2025 President Cup. Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell have the best course form but not one of those players progressed.

Favourites have a poor record generally at the business end of this tournament. However, McIlroy could defy that trend because at his best only Spieth could live with him and in the absence of the Masters champion Rory can win his second WGC tournament and first world matchplay.

European odds can be found at British bookmakers William Hill

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