Golf's greatest gather in Austin for match play

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The mantra “Keep Austin Weird” often defines the city, and with the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in town this week, the saying applies.

The newest PGA Tour stop in Texas comes to town this week as the top 64 players in the world converge on Austin Country Club. But the match play format is a bit of an oddity.

The event is the only regular season PGA Tour or European Tour event that uses the match play format. And it definitely affects how players approach the week.

“You’re only playing against one other guy,” said Jordan Spieth, a two-time major winner and former Texas Longhorn. “Play off of him. Take chances when you need to, but back off where you need to.”

The players are split into 16 four-player pods for the group play stage, with each player competing in three matches. These groups were revealed Monday at Hotel Van Zandt in downtown Austin.

The top player in each group then advances to a single elimination format for the weekend.

Spieth enters the event ranked No. 6 in the Official World Golf Rankings. He is joined in Group 5 by No. 36 Ryan Moore, No. 41 Yuta Ikeda and No. 60 Hideto Tanihara.

“I’ve got a tough group,” Spieth said. “It’s going to be difficult just getting out of the group stage this year.”

The only other former Longhorn in the field is Jhonattan Vegas. Vegas, ranked No. 61, was assigned to Group 13 with No. 17 Bubba Watson, No. 34 Thomas Pieters and No. 43 Scott Piercy.

The WGC event has frequently moved around in recent history. From 2009-2014, it was hosted at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Arizona. It traveled to San Francisco at TPC Harding Park for 2015 before moving to Austin last year.

But players in the field lauded Austin, and said they were happy to be back for the second straight year. Spieth called it his “second home” and added that it was probably his “favorite city in the world.”

“It’s an awesome city,” said Rory McIlroy, currently ranked No. 2 in the world. “Personally for me it was one of the most enjoyable weeks of the year.”