Knowing your enemy as well as you know yourself has been regarded as one of the keys to successful warfare from time immemorial.
But that’s no comfort to the four Irishmen in tomorrow’s first round draw for the WGC-Accenture Match Play world number one Rory McIlroy taking on stablemate and former Ireland team mate Shane Lowry with Graeme McDowell pitted against three-time major winner Pádraig Harrington.
To make matters worse, all four are in the same section of the draw and on course to meet in Friday’s third round, meaning that only one of them can make it to the quarter-finals.
Looking that far ahead is an exercise in futility and while McIlroy will not be relishing a showdown with a putter of Lowry’s quality on the opening day, McDowell and Harrington could not have asked for a tougher draw in bad weather with temperatures forecast to plummet from yesterday’s 23C to 12C. Rain is also expected.
“If it’s as bad they say on Wednesday, I think I’d have preferred to play an American rather than a guy like Padraig, who is probably as good a bad-weather player as I would be,” McDowell said before heading out to play the back nine with Lowry. “It’s disappointing, but it’s just part and parcel of this week.
“I think we are disappointed that we are all in the same bracket and that we are playing each other. That really kind of hurts things in that only one of us can make the quarter finals.
“You’d prefer not to play guys you are close to and Padraig is a tenacious match player and I will have my work cut out. But there are 63 other players in this field who are all capable of shooting 64.”
Harrington and McDowell both played the course on Sunday having missed the cut in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
The Dubliner was in Phoenix yesterday, shooting an ad for his club sponsors Wilson while Lowry and McDowell got ready to do their homework on a course that is characterised by its severely undulating greens.
On paper, world number 68 Lowry should have little chance of surprising McIlroy. But given the world number one’s teething problems with his new Nike equipment - especially the driver and the putter - he may well be severely tested by the Clara man, who has nothing to lose.
That’s certainly the view of England’s Justin Rose, who is impressed by what he’s seen from the pride of Offaly so far in his career.
“I’ve played a lot of golf with Shane in the last few months - I played with him at Lake Malaren in China in the last two round - and I’ve been really impressed with his putting. He seems to make a lot of putts from 10 feet and in.
“It’s not an easy match for Rory. When it’s world No 1 versus world no 64 (sic) it’s almost a free pass. You’re not expected to do anything, you can only be the hero. That’s the thing about being the top seed, you’re the one expected to win. That’s why it is always dangerous to evaluate.
“In tennis the top four seem to get the the semi-finals in every major. If the top four seeds all advanced to the semi-finals here we would be in disbelief – it doesn’t happen.”
Lowry suffered a small reverse in his preparations when he clubs didn’t turn up until yesterday. But he was still in bright form when he finally got to play the course with a temporary set on Sunday, engaging in his some good-natured banter with McIlroy, precisely over putting, when they met on the putting green.
“I was telling him to practice his short ones because he won’t be getting many from me on Wednesday,” Lowry said with a grin. “It’s just a bit of craic.”
Asked if he’d have a psychological edge over a player he knows better than most having partnered him in foursomes for Ireland, Lowry was not so sure.
“Listen, he’s the best golfer in the world and it’s hard to get an edge on him,” Lowry said. “I just have to go out and make as many birdies as I can and see where I am on Wednesday afternoon.
“He’s always been a go for it player and that suits me. I have no fear of going at flags and taking the golf course on.
“The greens are quite tricky so the short game will come into it, which will be good for me. I just have to try and enjoy it.”
Lowry knows he has nothing to lose but that doesn’t mean he won’t be feeling the pressure as he tries to break into the top 50 in the world who qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship in two weeks as well as the Masters.
Revealing he’ll battle for just four spots in a Monday qualifier for next week’s Honda Classic, he said: “I have pressure on myself too. I don’t want to go out and make a show of myself. I still want to go out there and do well.”
An All Ireland third round clash is possible but there is a lot of golf to be played before it can happen. The winner of the Lowry-McIlroy clash will meet either Carl Petterson or Rickie Fowler while Harrington or McDowell take on Dustin Johnson or Swede Alex Noren.
Harrington spent the morning doing a photoshoot for his clubs sponsors Wilson in Scottsdale but returned to Dove Mountain late in the afternoon to work on his putting with Howard Twitty.
The Dubliner is 50th in the world and in danger of failing to qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral in a fortnight.
He has not entered next week’s Honda Classic appears unlikely to do so. However, and will almost certainly need to beat McDowell to secure his place in the field in Miami.
As for McIlroy, the world No 1 played the front nine in practice in the afternoon with the Nike Method putter in his bag having jettisoned it in favour of his old Scotty Cameron for the second round in Abu Dhabi, where he missed the halfway cut on his debut with his new clubs.
The Holywood star has had four weeks off to practice, spending some of his time in Monaco and the rest in West Palm Beach, with a short skiing trip to Courchevel in the French Alps in between.
“It’s been good,” McIlroy said. “Nice. I’ve been practicing in Florida for the last 10 days getting my game in shape. It’s been good. I’m much happier than I was in Abu Dhabi.”
The two-time major winner knows that his megabucks move to Nike is going to come under further scrutinty this week, especially if he is dumped out by Lowry in the first round.
“Yeah, of course, and it’s the first time in the US. But the important thing is that I am happier with my golf game. I don’t care about the attention.
“Shane? It will be good fun. I saw him yesterday and I think his clubs arrived. It’s all good. I’m looking forward to it.”