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The Match: Tiger Woods & Rory McIlroy vs. Jordan Spieth & Justin Thomas Preview

For the seventh time, Capital One's the match is set to tee off this weekend. Featuring four of the biggest names in the sport, Tiger Woods will be playing in his first event since the 150th Open at St Andrews in July. Expected to play in the Hero World Challenge, he was forced to withdraw due to a foot injury. Playing alongside him will be his good friend Rory Mcilroy. Currently the no. 1 player in the world, the Northern Ireland native is in peak form after capturing the Fed Ex Cup last season. Squaring off against them will be Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. With experience playing with each other in multiple tournaments on the Tour, the duo has played in numerous Ryder and Presidents Cup matches.


The Course

Taking place at Pelican Golf Club in Bellair, Florida, the course hosted an LPGA event in early November. Donald Ross designed the layout nearly 100 years ago, in 1925. First, given the name Pelican Golf Club, it was ultimately renamed to Belleview Biltmore Golf Club after the town of Belleair bought it in 2013. Spanning over 7,000 yards from the back tees, the club scores as a par 70. Playing similarly to Augusta National, it is a second-shot golf course, emphasizing proper placement. Additionally, with the fairways over 40 yards wide on the front nine and 60 on the back, players will be forced to navigate multiple water hazards and greens that come in various sizes with significant slope and undulation.


The Format

The format will be 12 holes of match play under a best-ball structure. This means that all four players will play their own ball, with the best individual score from each team counting towards the hole. For example, if Thomas makes a bogey on hole four, but Spieth makes a par, they will count Spieth's par as their team score. Moreover, there will also be various side contests throughout the 12 holes, with money for charity on the line.


The Teams

Tiger Woods & Rory Mcilroy

Back for the first time since missing the cut at the Open Championship in July, Woods played just nine rounds of golf across three tournaments in 2022. He made the weekend at the Masters before pulling out after Saturday at the PGA Championship. The 46-year-old was supposed to play at the Hero World Challenge a week ago before being forced to withdraw due to Plantar Fasciitis in his right foot. Reportedly practicing at his home club at Medalist in Florida over the past few months, the 15-time major champion has fired rounds in the low 60s, with his ball-striking ability still as potent as ever. However, Woods has been unable to walk as the California native continues to build the strength back up in his leg after suffering a car accident last February. Not a cause for concern on Saturday; all four competitors will use golf carts.


Fresh off a win at the CJ Cup, Mcilroy has been playing some of the best golf of his legendary career of late. The 33-year-old has taken back his status as the top-ranked golfer in the world after finishing inside the top five at the Masters, US Open, and the Open last season. Furthermore, he also captured a victory in Canada in July before winning the DP World Championship as the season-long points leader for the European Tour. Moreover, the four-time Byron Nelson award winner also captured the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake in August. This led the four-time major champion to be crowned the FedEx Cup winner for the third time.


Justin Thomas & Jordan Spieth

Nearly victorious at the Hero World Challenge a week ago, Thomas followed up his third-round 66 with a 70 on Sunday to finish in fifth place. Once the no. 1 ranked player in the world last season, the 29-year-old captured the PGA Championship for the second time after he defeated Will Zalatoris in a playoff. Additionally, the Kentucky native also recorded six top-tens, including a sixth-place finish at the Genesis Invitational in January, along with a third-place finish at the RBC Canadian Open in July. With the game to score well at Pelican Golf Club, the University of Alabama alumn remains one of the best iron players in the world. He has hit nearly 70 percent of his greens in regulation through four starts this year.


Playing in the match for the first time, Spieth placed 15th in his second event of the year a week ago. Coming off a strong 2022 season, the 29-year-old won his 13th PGA Tour title in April at the RBC Heritage. He defeated Patrick Cantlay in a playoff after carding a final round 69. Now up to the 14th spot in the world golf rankings, the Dallas, Texas native also recorded six top-ten finishes, including a tie for seventh at Colonial in the Charles Schwab Challenge. The former PGA Tour rookie of the year also finished runner-up at the AT&T Byron Nelson. With experience playing in a partner format with Thomas, the duo has played as partners since the Ryder Cup in 2018. They went a perfect 4-0 in the Presidents Cup in September.


Prediction

Typically best ball format favors the top overall player, which is Mcilroy. Red hot, the reigning Vardon Trophy winner as the leader in scoring average, has racked up 11 top-five finishes since April. This led him to become the second player in history to capture both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour's season-long titles. However, with the health of Woods remaining a significant question mark, he has not played in an event in more than five months. As a result, with experience playing in partner formats, including a 4-0 mark at Quail Hollow in September, both Thomas and Spieth are two of the best shot-makers on the planet. While it's hard to bet against one of the greatest golfers of all time, Tiger, look for the all-American tandem to come out on top.


Winner: Thomas & Spieth

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