KARVARNA, Bulgaria – Thank goodness the €3 million Volvo World Match Play Championship doesn’t adhere to the conventional match-play format of lose and you’re out. Otherwise the king of match play would be on his way home along with several other contenders for this tournament.
Ian Poulter’s chances of winning the €800,000 first-place prize are alive and well thanks to Volvo’s insistence on a group format instead of the traditional knockout system the tournament used to employ.
Poulter lost 3 and 2 to Thongchai Jaidee, but a win tomorrow against South Africa’s Thomas Aiken, the other player in the group, will see the Englishman through to the knockout rounds. The top two from the eight groups of three go through to the pure knockout stages.
“No dramas,” was how the Ryder Cup star described his loss. Poulter began with three consecutive birdies but handed Jaidee holes with poor shots at Nos. 4, 6, 11, 12, 13 and 14.
“He’s a great player but I gave him holes today and you don’t do that in match play. It’s dead simple,” said Poulter.
“It’s a tough golf course where if you hit a couple of errant shots then you’re going to be struggling to be back in the hole. If you miss a couple of shots then it’s very penal and it’s hard to put your opponent back under pressure. But I’ll be fine. It’s not often you lose in match play and everything is fine.”
That was Nicolas Colsaerts’s view, too. The defending champion lost 4 and 3 to South Africa’s Branden Grace, but knows from experience he can still win. Last year he began by halving his first match, and then had to defeat Charl Schwartzel in a playoff to get through to the knockout stages.
“I know that if I have a good game tomorrow then at least I’m in a playoff,” Colsaerts said. “I’ve got the possibility to go through, that’s the consolation of the format.”
Colsaerts was 5 down after nine and did well to limit the damage to 4 and 3.
Graeme McDowell shouldn’t have to rely on the format. The Northern Irishman was imperious in defeating England’s Chris Wood 5 and 3, the biggest margin of victory on the opening day. McDowell was 3 under for his 15 holes, dropping just the one shot at the par-5, 12th hole.
“To get the win under your belt today is very important,” McDowell said. “It really takes the pressure off.”
In the other matches, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano defeated Jamie Donaldson by one hole, Francesco Molinari beat Henrik Stenson 4 and 3, Bo Van Pelt halved with South Africa’s Richard Sterne, and Peter Hanson defeated George Coetzee 2 and 1.
Arguably the most impressive display of the day came from Sweden’s Carl Pettersson. He defeated Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen 4 and 3 but was the only one of the 16 players not to make a bogey. That’s no easy feat on a course as quirky as Thracian Cliffs.
“I haven’t played great, I haven’t played terrible,” Pettersen said.
That was the understatement of the day coming from a man who said he’d be really nervous about playing a stroke-play event around Thracian Cliffs. A definite understatement considering Hanson’s victory included winning the par-4 10th hole with a double bogey to Coetzee’s quadruple bogey.
Oh, the joys of match play.