AUSTIN, Texas -- Preparing and peaking for a major championship is always a tricky proposition, especially for the Masters, since there is so much time leading up to it and myriad ways to get ready for Augusta National Golf Club.
Throw in the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship just two weeks prior, and there is an added dilemma as to how it may or may not affect that process.
The Masters is two weeks away, and match play is far from stroke play. For those who make it to the weekend here at Austin Country Club, there is the potential for seven matches over five days or a possible 126 holes.
So how does this event fit into the schedule in the first year of Dell's sponsorship at a new venue? Depends on whom you ask.
"There's nothing like match play to sharpen your game,'' said defending champion Rory McIlroy, who won last year's event at Harding Park in San Francisco. "You've got to hole putts at the right time. You have to hit shots when it really matters. It's sort of like playing in contention but from the first tee shot. In that way, it's not a bad thing.
"And it is nice that even if you are beaten in one of the matches, you still have a chance to progress. I don't mind it.''
McIlroy was referencing the format change from a year ago in which everyone in the 64-player field is guaranteed three matches in a round-robin format before the field is cut to 16 players for the weekend knockout stage.
But not all are in favor of having this tournament so close to the Masters. Jason Day, coming off a victory Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was initially not a fan. He had talked last year about skipping the tournament, especially since he prefers the old format -- he won it two years ago.
"It is what it is. It's in the schedule,'' Day said. "I was always going to play it.''
To that end, Day wasn't planning on a practice round at Austin Country Club, even though he has never played the course. He was simply going to take a look around and putt on some of the greens.
That's not how you'd approach a big tournament, but perhaps scheduling has something to do with it. Henrik Stenson is the lone player eligible (aside from injured Jim Furyk) to skip, and he said that the tournament didn't fit his schedule in preparing for the Masters.
"I was considering whether or not I should play this week because my preparation has proven to be good with two weeks off heading to the Masters, but I decided to play in the end,'' said Adam Scott, who has two victories this month. "It gets a little bit in the way, if you look at my scheduling the last few years. I have had at least two weeks off before the Masters. But I don't make the schedule or get a say in it, so I have to adjust accordingly.
"It's a very difficult schedule this entire year. The Players [Championship] used to be in this date and I thought it was a good date for it. It was the first big event of the year, kind of before World Golf events were what they are now. The Players was the first big congregation of all the top players and the world media came in for the players and stayed for the Masters and it was a big deal.''
Neither McIlroy nor Day was around at a time when the Players was always scheduled at this time, just a few weeks prior to the Masters.
Until the FedEx Cup format came along in 2007, which saw the move of the Players Championship to May, the PGA Tour's signature event was played two weeks prior to the Masters. Nobody skipped it. And while it was a great test with another big tournament so close, it was also often viewed as a warm-up event for the Masters instead of standing on its own.
That in part is why the tour sought to move it away from the Masters and give it some space. The World Golf Championship tournaments are similar in stature -- although other than this year, the WGC-Bridgestone is played the week prior to the PGA Championship.
When the Match Play event began in 1999, it was positioned at the end of February as part of the West Coast Swing and was played in that timeframe every year through 2014, except in 2001, when the event was staged in Australia.
The Match Play was typically the tournament in which a majority of the game's top players convened for the first time, and it served as a good bridge to the Florida Swing.
But sponsorship issues forced a reboot, with a one-year run the week prior to the Players Championship a year ago before settling into this spot on the calendar ... at least for now. A future date is not official, but it is believed the tournament will stay in or around this time slot.
And much like the days when the Players preceded the Masters, a good deal of conversation this week is looking ahead to Augusta National.
"I think where it is on the schedule is a very good thing for the players,'' said Phil Mickelson, who has missed the past four Match Plays and five of the past six. "It's a beneficial thing. If you ended up getting knocked out early and don't make it to the weekend, you can go to Augusta and get a few practice rounds.''
And for some, that may very well be the mindset this week.