Better location, but Volvo Match Play field must improve

Defending champ Graeme McDowell has already committed to the Volvo World Match Play.

Defending champ Graeme McDowell has already committed to the Volvo World Match Play.

LONDON – The return of the Volvo World Match Play Championship to England is great news for British golf. Let’s hope it gets a quality field to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of this tournament.

Persuading the world’s best to turn up could prove difficult.

Sponsors Volvo and organizers IMG used the luxurious Savoy Hotel to announce the World Match Play would be returning to England after a four-year absence. The London Golf Club in Kent will host the event over the Jack Nicklaus designed International Course Oct. 15-19, three weeks after the Ryder Cup.

That date might not suit big-name Americans. It might not suit Europe’s elite either.

The prize fund has been set at €2.5 million, with €650,000 going to the champion, and €50,000 to those knocked out early. Defending champion Graeme McDowell and Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup winner Henrik Stenson have already confirmed their participation.

It’s going to be interesting to see who else joins them.

October is the World Match Play’s traditional date. This Mark McCormack inspired event began in 1964 when IMG client Arnold Palmer won the inaugural event. Palmer is one of a group of winners that reads like a Hall-of-Fame list. Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Sir Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and McDowell are just some of the prestigious champions.

The Wentworth Club played host to the event until 2009, when Volvo took it to Spain. Last year it was held in Bulgaria. The London Club will likely not stage the event in 2015, since Volvo is keen to take it to other destinations.

The World Match Play was once knick-named the IMG World Match Play because it resembled an IMG invitational to help boost clients’ wallets. Volvo demanded a qualification format when it assumed sponsorship in 2009.

Aside from defending champion McDowell and Race to Dubai winner Stenson, the other 12 players must also qualify.

The qualification places include winners of the four major championships, and the leading three players on the Official World Golf ranking after the Open Championship.

Getting those players to turn up is going to be problematic. Tiger Woods has only played in the event 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 has never made an appearance. Bo Van Pelt was the only American in last year’s field.

“Hopeful” was all IMG’s global head of golf Guy Kinnings would say when asked about the possibility of securing World No. 1 Woods.

Getting top Americans to return to the United Kingdom three weeks after the Ryder Cup is a big ask, especially considering the event won’t be played in summer conditions. Given that it comes just two weeks before the European Tour’s Final Series, when top European players have to play in three of the four big end-of-season money events is also expecting a lot.

However, English players like Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald have been calling for more tournaments in England. In 2003 there were five English tournaments. Scroll forward 10 years and there was only one last season. With the Open Championship and BMW Match Play Championship, there will be three this year.

So the pressure is on Europe’s elite to tee it up and support their home tour. The venue is likely to draw big crowds. Whether it brings a big field is another matter.

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