McIlroy and McDowell taking matchplay in their stride
No, it's not toothache. Rory McIlroy contemplates his reply at his media conference in Tucson. Picture: Fran Caffrey

No, it's not toothache. Rory McIlroy contemplates his reply at his media conference in Tucson. Picture: Fran Caffrey

Rory McIlroy has both but Graeme McDowell is banking on brains and touch to win out against raw power when he faces mega-hitter Gary Woodland in the first round of the WCG-Accenture Match Play in Tucson today.

The world No 17 is in the Group of Death at Dove Mountain with the likes of Zach Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley all standing in his way if he wants to meet pal McIlroy in Sunday's final.

McIlroy takes on former Ryder Cup star Boo Weekley in his opener hoping to build on a great start to the season and put last year's first round defeat to Shane Lowry behind him

But McDowell knows that his course management and his silky touch on the greens will be his key weapon against a Lake Nona neighbour Woodland, who can bomb the ball more than 50 yards past him at will

Feeling good about his game after opening his season with a seventh place finish at Pebble Beach two weeks ago, McDowell knows he could play great and still go home

He lost in the first round four times in five years before getting a run to the quarterfinals last season and knows there's no point in looking beyond Lake Nona neighbour and close pal Woodland.

McDowell said: "You kind of take it with a pinch of salt this week. There are no easy matches and you have just got to get your head down and try to get out of Wednesday. Once you get out of Wednesday, you try to get out of Thursday and try to do your job as best as you can and hope it’s enough. 

"It’s just a very fickle week so you just have to knuckle down and play your game. Gary is a good friend, I practiced with him all weekend and we travelled out together. It was good fun. But it’s always tough to play a good mate. He’s a good player and I will have to play well to beat him."

The course at Dove Mountain measures more than 7,700 yards but McDowell reckons length is not the biggest factor.

“Gary hits it 50 yards past me, as far past me as he wants," McDowell said. "Okay, length is important in some areas on this golf course, but you also have to place it well as well so I wouldn't call this necessarily a bombers track.

“Look at the past winners - Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald. … It hasn’t historically been the bombers who have taken care of business around here.

Graeme McDowell works on his bunker play in Tucson on Tuesday. Picture Fran Caffrey /

Graeme McDowell works on his bunker play in Tucson on Tuesday. Picture Fran Caffrey /

"This format has a lot to do with iron play and putting. You can really destroy a guy by putting really well."

With Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson skipping the event, McIlroy is one of the favourites to lift the title.

While he lost to Lowry in the first round last year, he reached the final in 2012 when he went down to US star Hunter Mahan.

That 2012 season was the greatest of his career so far - his five wins included a second major - but he believes he can do better.

Third in Abu Dhabi and ninth in Dubai in his first two outings, he's determined to go into the Masters with at least one win under his belt.

The world No 7 takes on American Boo Weekley in today’s first round at Dove Mountain knowing that anything can happen in an 18-hole matchplay sprint.

But he’s hoping that some concentrated work on his putting with coach Dave Stockton in Tucson this week can make all the difference.

“I haven’t hit the ball as well for a long time,” said McIlroy, who admitted that things are far different to 12 months ago when he arrived in a chilly Tucson and made an early exit to Shane Lowry, having struggled with his game and his new Nike clubs.

“I’ve spent a couple of days with Dave Stockton here because I was a little disappointed how I putted at the weekend in Dubai."

Asked if his stellar 2012 season - when he won the US PGA and became world No 1 in a five-win year - was his benchmark and he said, categorically: “I can do better.

"I went through period in 2012 when I missed four cuts in five events. I definitely thought it was a great year and when I played well, I played very well and won. But if I had any criticism about that year, I lacked a little bit of consistency.

“I am just trying to make my bad golf a little better and try and be more consistent and be able to compete on the weeks I don’t have my best game.

“So 2012 was a benchmark because anytime I got into contention, I was there or thereabout or I won, but I feel I’d like to try and got better than that.”

The bookies' favourite to win in Tucson where Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson are notable absentees, he insisted that while he's not yet thinking about Augusta, victories are always in his sights.

“After these three weeks I will be thinking about the Masters and getting ready for that but I guess here, at the Honda and Doral, it’s about trying to play well and I guess trying to get a win under your belt early on in the season,” he said.

The world number seven is far more  concerned about his putting than the demise Augusta National’s Eisenhower tree as he prepares to face the colourful Weekley

“It’s a tree,” McIlroy shrugged, smiling broadly.

Like McDowell, McIlroy knows there are no guarantees in Tucson, where the man shooting 67 could be sent packing as another cards a 73 against a less insider opponent and progresses.

Selected tee times (Irish time):

1425 Ian Poulter, ENG vs Rickie Fowler, USA
1445 Bubba Watson, USA vs Mikko Ilonen, FIN
1455 Keegan Bradley, USA vs Jonas Blixt, SWE
1545 Sergio Garcia, ESP vs Marc Leishman, AUS
1555 Bill Haas, USA vs Miguel A. Jimenez, ESP
1605 Dustin Johnson, USA vs Peter Hanson, SWE
1725 Graeme McDowell, NIR vs Gary Woodland, USA
1825 Rory McIlroy, NIR vs Boo Weekley, USA
1835 Lee Westwood, ENG vs Harris English, USA
1905 Henrik Stenson, SWE vs Kiradech Aphibanrat, THA
1925 Justin Rose, ENG vs Scott Piercy, USA
1935 Ernie, Els, ZAF vs Stephen Gallacher, SCO