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Game's best still looking over shoulders at Match Play

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Fans got a glimpse at the new-look WGC-Cadillac Match Play on Monday as officials unveiled the 16 groups that will compete against each other the first three days via a lottery-style selection process.

While the PGA Tour’s only individual match play event has previously defied conventional wisdom with a straight bracket absent power protection, this new format would seem to finally favor the higher-ranked player.

That said, Tuesday’s selection process seemed to temper some of those expectations with some competitive groupings.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy drew Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner in the first group, and Group 13 may end up the proverbial “group of death,” with Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Harris English.

The new format will include 16 four-player groups, with the top 16 players in the World Golf Ranking anchoring each group followed by players picked randomly from one of three pools. Pool No. 1 included players ranked from 17th to 32nd, followed by Nos. 33 to 48 in the second pool and Nos. 49 to 64 in the last pool.

Every player will compete in three days of round-robin play, with the winners of each group advancing to single-elimination match play starting on Saturday.

“The old format of straight knockout can be a little harsh," McDowell said. "You can show up, like I did a few years in Tucson [Ariz.], and shoot your 66, lose and go home. And that can be difficult, especially for the sponsors when their top players are flying home on Wednesday night.” 

“Even if you lose on Day 1 you still have something to play for.”

McDowell has advanced to the weekend the last two years at the WGC-Match Play, while English beat Lee Westwood and McIlroy in his first start in the event last year. In 2013, Lowry beat McIlroy in Round 1, and Fowler won the consolation match last year.

The rankings, however, don’t always tell the full story even with the new format. Group 9, for example, includes Adam Scott, Chris Kirk, Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari.

Although Scott is the highest-ranked player in that group, he’s struggled this season as he continues his transition to a non-anchored putter, and Molinari has been sidelined recently with a wrist injury. Conversely, Casey, No. 37 in the world, is playing solid golf in 2015 and has two runner-up finishes in the WGC-Match Play.

Similarly, Jimmy Walker drew match-play magician Ian Poulter, who won this event in 2010, long-hitting Gary Woodland and Webb Simpson in Group 11.

“It’s match play and you have to learn to expect the unexpected,” said Walker, who played Poulter in a four-ball match in last year’s Ryder Cup. “It’s going to be fun.”

J.B. Holmes in Group 12 also drew a tough lineup for the first three days in Brooks Koepka, Russell Henley and Marc Warren.

Masters champion and world No. 2 Jordan Spieth will play Lee Westwood, Matt Every and Mikko Ilonen, who was a last-minute addition to the field when Phil Mickelson announced on Sunday he would not play the WGC-Match Play for personal reasons.

Here are the groups selected Monday for pool play:

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
Rory McIlroy Jordan Spieth Henrik Stenson Bubba Watson
Billy Horschel Lee Westwood  Bill Haas Louis Oosthuizen
Brandt Snedeker  Matt Every  Brendon Todd  Keegan Bradley 
Jason Dufner  Mikko Ilonen  John Senden  Miguel Angel Jimenez 
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
Jim Furyk Justin Rose Jason Day Dustin Johnson
Martin Kaymer  Ryan Palmer Zach Johnson  Victor Dubuisson
Thongchai Jaidee  Anirban Lahiri  Branden Grace  Charl Schwartzel 
George Coetzee  Marc Leishman  Charley Hoffman  Matt Jones 
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
Adam Scott Sergio Garcia Jimmy Walker J.B. Holmes
Chris Kirk Jamie Donaldson  Ian Poulter Brooks Koepka
Paul Casey  Bernd Wiesberger Webb Simpson  Russell Henley 
Francesco Molinari  Tommy Fleetwood Gary Woodland  Marc Warren 
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
Rickie Fowler Matt Kuchar Patrick Reed Hideki Matsuyama
Graeme McDowell  Hunter Mahan Ryan Moore  Kevin Na 
Shane Lowry  Stephen Gallacher  Danny Willett  Joost Luiten 
Harris English  Ben Martin  Andy Sullivan Alexander Levy