(File image) Tiger Woods

Marana, Arizona - World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and three-time winner Tiger Woods top the list of favourites in the $8.75-million World Golf Championships Match Play Championship that begins on Wednesday.

Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, comes off a practice round last weekend with US President Barack Obama and a victory last month at Torrey Pines on his 2013 US PGA debut.

McIlroy, who lost last year's Match Play final to American Hunter Mahan, missed the cut at Dubai in his only prior start this year. McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship and the 2011 US Open.

The Northern Irishman opens against Irishman Shane Lowry in a Bobby Jones bracket that also has a first-round matchup between another Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell and Ireland's Padraig Harrington, both past major winners.

Woods tops the Gary Player bracket with an opener against US compatriot Charles Howell. Woods lost in the second round last year and has not gone past the second round since beating Stewart Cink in the 2008 final.

Mahan, the only American finalist in the past four years, starts at the opposite end of the same bracket against Italy's Matteo Manassero.

The field of 64 is lacking two of the world's top 64 players after 2012 US PGA playoff champion Brandt Snedeker withdrew with sore ribs and Phil Mickelson pulled out for a family vacation.

Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson, who opens against reigning British Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa in the Ben Hogan bracket, and Lowry were added to the field to replace Snedeker and Mickelson.

England's Luke Donald, the top seed in the Sam Snead bracket, opens against Germany's Marcel Siem. Last year, as the defending champion, Donald lost in the first round to Els.

South Africa boasts a top seed in Louis Oosthuizen, who leads the Ben Hogan bracket and opens against Scotsman Richie Ramsay. Oosthuizen could face countryman Branden Grace in the second round and Els in the third.

The Hogan bracket also features three Asian aces. Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita opens against American Matt Kuchar while Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee will play Spain's Sergio Garcia and South Korean KJ Choi will face England's Justin Rose.

Choi's best showing was a 2008 quarter-final run while Thongchai reached the 2010 quarter-finals in his only prior appearance in the event. Fujita made a first-round exit in 2011 in his only prior WGC Match Play start.

McIlroy's quarter of the draw also features reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson, who opens with England's Chris Wood; 2011

Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who opens against American Russell Henley and 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson, an American who opens with Australian Jason Day.

Other threats in Woods's quarter of the draw include England's Lee Westwood, who opens against Spain's Rafael Cabrera-Bello; American Webb Simpson, who opens against England's David Lynn, and Germany's Martin Kaymer, who plays South African George Coetzee in the first round.

Donald's quarter of the bracket also features Aussie Adam Scott, who opens against South African Tim Clark; England's Ian Poulter, who opens against Scotsman Stephen Gallacher, and American Steve Stricker, who starts against Sweden's Henrik Stenson. - Sapa-AFP