Tommy Fleetwood up against match-play “ninja” Ian Poulter

March 20, 2018

Reigning European Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood says he's looking forward to challenging match-play "ninja" Ian Poulter in the WGC Match Play Championship this week.

The English duo were drawn in the same round-robin group at Austin Country Club in Texas and Fleetwood will face Ryder Cup stalwart Poulter in his opening match on Wednesday.

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"He was described as a match-play ninja and I've never really gone up against a ninja before in my life, so it will be a new experience," Fleetwood said.

Poulter, who won the title in the elite World Golf Championships event in 2010, needs to reach the quarter-finals to have a chance to break into the top 50 in the world rankings and book a spot in the Masters next month.

Their group also includes Americans Kevin Chappell and Daniel Berger.

"If I was picking a group to watch, I think that would be a good one to watch," Fleetwood said.

Sixteen groups of four will play round-robin matches from Wednesday through Friday, with the winners progressing to Saturday's knockout round of 16.

Jordan Spieth will find a familiar face waiting for him in his group, which includes his former US Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teammate Patrick Reed.

The two have teamed up to great effect for the United States, but will be meeting as match-play opponents for the first time.

"I've seen it firsthand when he's been at his best," said Spieth, whose group also includes China's Li Haotong and South African Charl Schwartzel.

"And we have history together in a couple of different playoffs, which is a match-play scenario," Spieth added.

"I've got to take care of work tomorrow and the next day for that day to even matter. But even if it doesn't matter, trust me, it will matter to both of us."

This week's tournament takes place against a backdrop of rising tension in Austin, where police are investigating a series of bomb explosions which have left two people dead.

"It stinks equally anywhere that it would happen, but obviously for such a fantastic city full of great people it stinks for the city of Austin," said Spieth, a Dallas native who attended the University of Texas in Austin.

"You just hope that whatever is happening is obviously dealt with as quickly as possible."

World number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson faces a tough group that includes fellow American Kevin Kisner, Canadian Adam Hadwin and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger.

World number two Justin Thomas, the 2017 US PGA Tour Player of the Year, is in a group that includes Luke List -- who fell to Thomas in a playoff at the Honda Classic in February -- along with Patton Kizzire and Italy's Francesco Molinari.

Rory McIlroy, who ended an 18-month victory drought at Bay Hill on Sunday, is in a group that features Venezuela's Jhonattan Vegas, who played college golf at the University of Texas, along with Brian Harman and Peter Uihlein.