LONDON – The Volvo World Match Play Championship will be held this fall at London Golf Club, organizers from IMG and sponsor Volvo announced today at the Savoy Hotel, confirming one of golf’s worst-kept secrets.
The tournament returns to the London area on the 50th anniversary of the Mark McCormack-inspired event. Graeme McDowell, the defending champion, and Henrik Stenson, winner of the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles, already have qualified and confirmed their participation.
The tournament is to be played over the London Golf Club’s Jack Nicklaus-designed International Course on Oct. 15-19, three weeks after the Ryder Cup. That could challenge event organizers in their efforts to attract top Americans and U.S.-based international players from the PGA Tour to the U.K.
The late McCormack, founder of International Management Group, devised the Match Play in 1964. IMG client Arnold Palmer won the inaugural event. The champions list reads like a who’s-who of golf: Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and McDowell among them.
Wentworth Golf Club was the event’s spiritual home until 2009. Volvo then took the event to Spain for four years before opting for Bulgaria last year.
“I was accused of stealing the crown jewels four years ago,” said Per Ericsson, president of Volvo Event Management. “So it feels good to bring it back to England for the 50th anniversary.”
The prize fund is set at 2.5 million euros (about $3.38 million), with 650,000 euros ($880,000) going to the champion and 50,000 euros ($67,600) to those knocked out early. One of the biggest changes this year is a reduction in the field, from 24 players to 16. Those 16 will be divided into four groups of four, with each player competing against group members in a round-robin format. The top two players from each group advance to the quarterfinals.
Once upon a time the Match Play was nicknamed the IMG World Match Play because it resembled an IMG invitational to help boost clients’ wallets. When Volvo assumed sponsorship in 2009, the Swedish automaker demanded a qualification format.
Aside from defending champion McDowell and Race to Dubai winner Stenson, the other 12 players must qualify.
The qualification places include winners of the four major championships, and the leading three players on the Official World Golf Ranking after the July 17-20 Open Championship.
Getting those players to turn up is going to be problematic. For example, Bo Van Pelt was the only American in last year’s field.
Tiger Woods has played in the event only twice. He lost to Mark O’Meara in the 1998 final, and went out to Shaun Micheel in the first round in 2006. Phil Mickelson never has appeared.
“Hopeful” was all that Guy Kinnings, IMG’s global head of golf, would say when asked about the possibility of securing World No. 1 Woods.
Bringing the event back to England is welcome news for the European Tour, on which the number of English events dropped in recent years to just one last year. The tour also has a financial stake in the London Golf Club.
The tournament will be well supported by English fans starved for big-time professional golf. Whether it gets the field McCormack envisioned all those years ago is another thing.