The Northern Irishman captured his second World Golf Championships trophy in San Francisco 12 months ago when he saw off American Gary Woodland 4&2 in the final, and will be hoping for a similar performance in Texas as he seeks his first victory of the season.
McIlroy’s victory was the sixth by a European Tour member in 17 editions of the tournament, and this year’s contingent will be set on following the likes of Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter into the winner’s circle.
England’s Danny Willett impressed on his debut last year, taking third place after beating Jim Furyk in the play-off match, and he returns in equally fine form, having won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last month and finished tied third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Seven players will be making their debut this time – Byeong Hun An, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Emiliano Grillo, Russell Knox, David Lingmerth, Jaco Van Zyl and Thomas Pieters, who secured his place in the field by finishing third in Thailand just before the cut-off date.
Thorbjørn Olesen made it in as the last man at number 66 in the Official World Golf Ranking after Furyk and Stenson withdrew with injury, and the Dane is one of a number of Europeans hoping to seize the opportunity to state his match play credentials six months before the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National.
For the second year running, the tournament will have a round-robin format, with the field split into 16 groups of four. The group matches will be played on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, after which the player with the best record in each group will progress to the last 16, when a straight knock-out format will be adopted.
Saturday will feature the last-16 matches in the morning and the quarter-finals in the afternoon, with the semi-finals and final taking place on Sunday.
The only change to the format is that this year group matches will not go to extra holes in the event of a match being all square after 18; each player will be awarded a half point.
The top seeds in the group stage will correspond to the top 16 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, with the remaining three players in each group determined by a blind draw from three pools, based on their position in the World Ranking.
The draw will take place at Austin Theatre on Monday evening and broadcast live on the Golf Channel.