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World's best converge on Austin for match play

AUSTIN, Texas -- The PGA Tour heads to Central Texas and into match play for the only time on its schedule when 64 of the best 69 players in the world vie for the title at the World Golf Championships-Match Play, beginning Wednesday at Austin Country Club.

The top 64 available players from the Official World Golf Ranking, as of March 13, qualified for the event but -- unlike almost everyone else in the free world -- five of those golfers chose not to visit the verdant hills of Austin. Henrik Stenson of Sweden (No. 5), Australia's Adam Scott (8), Rickie Fowler (9), Justin Rose of England (13) and Adam Hadwin (51) are not in this week's field.

That opened the door for participation for the players ranked Nos. 65-69: Jason Dufner, K.T. Kim of South Africa, Joost Luiten of The Netherlands, and Pat Perez and Si Woo Kim of South Korea.

As it was last year to guarantee that every golfer competes in three matches, the field is divided into pool play, with 16 groups of four golfers. Each player in every group goes head to head once in rounds Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A win is worth one point and a tie scores a half point. The golfer who amasses the most points from his three matches moves on to single elimination play on the weekend.

In the event, if three or more players in a group are even after pool play, a stroke play hole-by-hole playoff on holes 1 through 18 in sequence will determine the player that advances to the 16-player, single-elimination matches. If only two players in the group are tied, match play will be used to determine the playoff winner.

The round of 16 and quarterfinals are contested on Saturday afternoon and the semifinals and finals are Sunday. Total purse for the event is $9.75 million with $1.66 million going to the winner.

United States-based golfers say they love getting to compete in match play, the format many used regularly as junior players.

"I like that it's different -- you can play more aggressive and you can take more chances," said World No. 6 Jordan Spieth, who played his college golf at the University of Texas and is considered a hometown favorite.

"Playing one on one brings in a very mental side of golf. If you asked the players, I think a lot would like to have it more often."

Australia's Jason Day, who won last year's tournament, comes into Austin as the No. 3-ranked player in the world. Day's 5 and 4 victory over South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen in last year's Championship Match was the largest margin since Tiger Woods defeated Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in 2008 when the Championship Match was 36 holes.

World top-ranked golfer Dustin Johnson lost in last year's quarterfinals and he got no love in the draw for this week's event. His group is arguably the toughest, with Jimmy Walker, who won last year's PGA Championship, Germany's Martin Kaymer (a two-time major winner and a Players champion) and Webb Simpson, a former winner of the U.S. Open.

Founded in 1899, Austin Country Club is one of the oldest existing clubs in Texas. The club's current property is its third location and is set on a challenging Pete Dye-designed golf course built in 1984 in Texas Hill Country foothills and along the shores views of Lake Austin.

With its deep pot bunkers, undulating turf and dramatic fairway falls, the course's extensive use of massive limestone slabs, quarried on site, to build revetments for tees, greens and fairways create a "target golf" challenge that is perfect for the risk-reward aspects of match play.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who's second in the world ranking, won the 2015 edition of this tournament when it was played in San Francisco. On Monday, he spoke about how much he loved Austin and how he needed to play well to extend his stay in Central Texas as long as possible.

"Obviously, I think the course was well received and the city as a whole was well received," McIlroy said. "Personally, Austin is one of the most enjoyable weeks of the year."

Updated March 21, 2017

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