Major rivals for McDowell and Lowry; Rory gets Kaufman, Na and Olesen
 Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Four-time major winner and world No 3 Rory McIlroy has been drawn in what appeared to be an accessible group for his defence of the WGC-Dell Match Play in San Antonio.

Set to face 24-year old American Smylie Kauffman, short-hitter Kevin Na and his fellow Nike stablemate and long time European Tour pal Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark in Group 3, the Co Down man is expected to progress to Saturday morning's round of 16.

But it may be a lot tougher for Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry — not to mention world No 1 Jordan Spieth — after they drew some experienced major winners.

Lowry is in Group 14 with former Masters winner and current Open champion Zach Johnson (the world No 14), former US Open and US PGA winner Martin Kaymer (44) and Australia's Marcus Fraser (60),

It could be even tougher for McDowell in Group 2 against Bay Hill winner and world No 2 Jason Day (his nemesis in Tucson when the Australian won this title two years ago), the resurgent Englishman Paul Casey (the 2006 HSBC World Match Play Championship winner) and the always combative Thongchai Jaidee, the player McDowell beat 2 and 1 in the final of the 2013 Volvo World Match Play in Bulgaria.

As for world No 1 Jordan Spieth, he takes for Junior and college golf rival Justin Thomas and European Ryder Cup players Victor Dubuisson and Jamie Donaldson while the Group of Death ay well be Phil Mickelson, a second seed after falling out of the top 16 this week, who is drawn with Patrick Reed, former US Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick Daniel Berger, the PGA Tour rookie of the year.

Of course, form and rankings traditionally go out the window in this event, even if the group format has removed some of the excitement of the straight knockout system.

"Thorbjorn is a good friend of mine," McIlroy said of his draw. The first time I played with Thorbjorn was in Egypt in 2010. 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 [winning in his second start]. As I said, no matter who you draw in this event, you know you're going to get a tough match."

As far as the brackets go, McIlroy and Lowry could meet in the last 16 with McDowell only meeting one of them in the semi-finals. 

The event switched from knockout to group play last year to appease sponsors who feared losing top players before the weekend.

Matches during group play can end in a draw but only one player from each of the 16 groups advances to Saturday's knockout stage which means that if two players in a group are tied, they go to a sudden-death playoff.

Irish tee-times

(Click here for daily running order)

Wednesday - Round 1

  • Jason Day v Graeme McDowell
  • Shane Lowry v Martin Kaymer
  • Rory McIlroy v Thorbjorn Olesen

Thursday - Round

  • Paul Casey v Graeme McDowell
  • Shane Lowry v Marcus Fraser
  • Rory McIlroy v Smylie Kaufman

Friday - Round 3

  • Zach Johnson v Shane Lowry
  • Rory McIlroy v Kevin Na
  • Thongchai Jaidee v Graeme  McDowell

GROUP 1

  • Jordan Spieth (1)
  • Justin Thomas (31)
  • Victor Dubuisson (39)
  • Jamie Donaldson (51)

GROUP 2

  • Jason Day (2)
  • Paul Casey (23)
  • Thongchai Jaidee (36)
  • Graeme McDowell (62)

GROUP 3

  • Rory McIlroy (3)
  • Kevin Na (26)
  • Smylie Kaufman (46)
  • Thorbjorn Olesen (64)

GROUP 4

  • Bubba Watson (4)
  • J.B. Holmes (21)
  • Emiliano Grillo (33)
  • Patton Kizzire (63)

GROUP 5

  • Rickie Fowler (5)
  • Byeong-Hun An (27)
  • Scott Piercy (47)
  • Jason Dufner (58)

GROUP 6

  • Adam Scott (6)
  • Bill Haas (30)
  • Chris Wood (41)
  • Thomas Pieters (55)

GROUP 7

  • Justin Rose (7)
  • Matt Kuchar (28)
  • Anirban Lahiri (48)
  • Fabian Gomez (57)

GROUP 8

  • Dustin Johnson (8)
  • Jimmy Walker (22)
  • Kiradech Aphibarnrat (37)
  • Robert Streb (49)

GROUP 9

  • Patrick Reed (9)
  • Phil Mickelson (17)
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick (42)
  • Daniel Berger (53)

GROUP 10

  • Danny Willett (10)
  • Brooks Koepka (18)
  • Billy Horschel (40)
  • Jaco Van Zyl (50)

GROUP 11

  • Branden Grace (11)
  • Russell Knox (32)
  • David Lingmerth (38)
  • Chris Kirk (54)

GROUP 12

  • Hideki Matsuyama (12)
  • Kevin Kisner (20)
  • Soren Kjeldsen (43)
  • Rafa Cabrera Bello (52)

GROUP 13

  • Sergio Garcia (13)
  • Marc Leishman (25)
  • Ryan Moore (45)
  • Lee Westwood (59)

GROUP 14

  • Zach Johnson (14)
  • Shane Lowry (24)
  • Martin Kaymer (44)
  • Marcus Fraser (60)

GROUP 15

  • Brandt Snedeker (15)
  • Charl Schwartzel (19)
  • Danny Lee (34)
  • Charley Hoffman (56)

GROUP 16

  • Louis Oosthuizen (16)
  • Andy Sullivan (29)
  • Bernd Wiesberger (35)
  • Matt Jones (61)