Tuesday, 22 March 2016
Rory McIlroy  (Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy (Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy is prepared to scrap his way through the rounds at the WGC-Dell Match Play as he gets ready to defend the title he won 12 months ago.

The Northern Irishman was taken to the 20th hole by Billy Horschel during the group stage and needed four extra holes to overcome Paul Casey in the quarter-finals before emerging victorious at TPC Harding Park.

This year’s event has switched from San Francisco to Austin Country Club in Texas and, although matches in the group stages cannot go beyond 18 holes this year, the World Number Three is happy to go the distance once more – as long as he wins.

“I think definitely it prepares you more for the final,” McIlroy said after being drawn alongside Smylie Kaufman, Kevin Na and Thorbjørn Olesen in the group stage.

“It makes the final that little bit easier, because you've faced scenarios. 

“Whether you've had to birdie the last two holes to win or win in extra holes, I think those experiences serve you well.

“It's a bit like in the early stages of a Grand Slam tennis tournament - if you see a Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal or Novak [Djokovic], taken to four or five sets, it's almost like it's good for them to take that experience and be challenged.”

McIlroy is looking forward to the format switch, with the 64 players drawn into groups of four and the 16 winners progressing to the weekend’s knock-out stages.

“It's about playing the player that's in front of you there on the first tee,” said the 26 year old.

It's a sprint, it's 18 holes; you don't really have time to find your rhythm - Rory McIlroy

“You need to try to make birdies from the get-go, and that's the approach I've adopted the last few years. 

“Kevin I've played before in this event, back in Arizona, and he's playing very well. He's had a great year. 

“Thorbjørn is a good friend of mine. I've known him for a long time playing The European Tour - we've got a little bit of history. 

“Smylie, I really don't know that much about. I know that he got off to a great start in his PGA Tour career. No matter who you draw in this event, you know you're going to get a tough match.”

As well as trying to win a third World Golf Championships title, McIlroy believes there is a chance to land some early psychological blows ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup.

Darren Clarke’s team will face the US at Hazeltine at the end of September, and McIlroy believes that will add an extra incentive to any European-American showdowns this week.

He added: “I feel if there is a head-to-head between a European and an American, whoever gets the upper hand in this event, maybe just some psychological advantage going into the Ryder Cup. Maybe that will happen this week.”

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