Johnson faces dangerous group at WGC-Dell Match Play

Dustin Johnson is the reigning WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play champion. (Reuters pic)

AUSTIN: World number one Dustin Johnson opens his WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play title defense in Texas on Wednesday in a dangerous group that includes fellow American Kevin Kisner, Canadian Adam Hadwin, and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.

They make up one of 16 four-player groups that will play round-robin matches from Wednesday through Friday at the Austin Country Club with the winner of each group advancing to a single elimination bracket over the weekend.

Johnson survived a late push by Spanish 21st seed Jon Rahm to win the 18-hole final at the tournament last year.

American Justin Thomas can take the number one ranking from Johnson with a tournament win, but will first need to get through a group that includes compatriots Luke List and Patton Kizzire, as well as Italian Francesco Molinari. Thomas defeated List in a playoff at the Honda Classic last month.

Japanese players Hideki Matsuyama and Yūsaku Miyazato are in group five along with the US’ Patrick Cantlay and Cameron Smith.

Fresh off his win at Bay Hill, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy has been handed a favourable draw as part of a group that includes Americans Brian Harman and Peter Uihlein, who will be making their Match Play debuts, as well as Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas.

Defending Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood will square off against Americans Daniel Berger, who has four top -4 finishes this year, and Kevin Chappell, who tied for seventh at Bay Hill.

The group also includes Ian Poulter and Fleetwood said he looks forward to doing battle against his fellow Englishman on Wednesday.

The tournament comes to Austin at a time when police are searching for suspects linked to five bomb attacks that have rocked Texas this month.

South African Dylan Frittelli said he had noticed increased security at the course on Monday.

“They had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” he told reporters.

“It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols,” he said.