McIlroy could regain world No 1 spot at WGC Matchplay

Five players go into the event with a chance to seal top spot prior to the Masters

 Rory McIlroy  celebrates his victory in the Players Championship  at TPC Sawgrass earlier this month which saw him rise to fourth in the world rankings. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty  )

Rory McIlroy celebrates his victory in the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass earlier this month which saw him rise to fourth in the world rankings. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/Getty )

 

Rory McIlroy’s upward trending could see the 29-year-old Northern Irishman return to the world number one spot if all the stars align at the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay Championship.

For that to happen, McIlroy would need to win and for Dustin Johnson to fail to make the semi-final stage and for Justin Rose to finish outside the top three.

Just over a year ago, prior to his win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, McIlroy had dropped to 13th in the world rankings. This season, having started the year in eighth position, he has made impressive progress and is currently fourth following a series of performances that have seen him finish in the top-six in all six tournaments he has played so far this season: 4th-5th-4th-2nd-6th-1st.

McIlroy’s win in The Players championship earlier this month saw him jump two places from sixth to fourth in the rankings and within touching distance of reclaiming the world number one spot.

In fact, no fewer than five players – McIlroy, Johnson, Rose, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas – go into the Dell Matchplay with the chance to claim that number one position.

With the Dell Matchplay’s field limited to the leading available 64 players from the world rankings, its positioning in the schedule a fortnight ahead of the Masters has proven conducive to assembling a very strong line-up. Only Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott from those eligible have opted not to play. Satoshi Kodaira and Luke List are the beneficiaries of Fowler’s and Scott’s absence.

McIlroy and Shane Lowry are the two Irish players in the championship which sees players compete in pool matches for three days (Wednesday to Friday) with only the 16 group winners advancing to the knockout phases over the weekend. While McIlroy won the Matchplay title in 2015, Lowry has failed to get beyond the group stages in three attempts (2015, 2016 and 2017) and his best result (reaching the last 16 in 2014) was achieved prior to the tournament moving to a round-robin group format.

For McIlroy, who heads the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour, this will be a final outing ahead of next month’s US Masters tournament, where he will launch another attempt to achieve the career Grand Slam.

Successful defence

Paul Casey’s successful defence of the Valspar Championship has also seen the Englishman continue his upward momentum in the world rankings, jumping from 15th to 11th in the latest standings. Casey was ranked 22nd at the start of the year.

“It’s exciting to be knocking on the door again, it’s kind of a cool thing,” said Casey of his quest to break back into the top 10.

“I would love to be number one in the world. I don’t know if that is attainable just yet. If I accomplish all those goals I’ve written down, then it probably would be. But we’ll worry about that problem if it comes.”

Casey claimed to be “excited” about the coming weeks including the Matchplay and the Masters as he bids to become a serial tournament winner.

“I’ve always thought I’ve been incredibly consistent the last few years but I would almost give up that consistency for more victories. Quite often I see guys like Rory or Dustin missing cuts but winning very, very frequently.”

While McIlroy and Lowry are involved in matchplay fare in Texas, Graeme McDowell and Séamus Power will be competing in the Corales Championship in the Dominican Republic.

Power will be looking to bounce back from a missed cut in the Valspar, where McDowell finished tied-46th.

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