ASH England (Reuters) - Title holder Graeme McDowell is a man on a mission this week — to restore much-needed luster to the World Match Play Championship at the London Club.
The 50th anniversary edition of the tournament has failed to attract the ‘A-list’ golfers, with world number one Rory McIlroy, third-ranked Sergio Garcia and number six Justin Rose among those missing.
The greatest names in the game, players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, feature on the roll of honor but the 16-man event has lost its identity in recent times.
The iconic West Course at Wentworth staged the championship from 1964-2007. Since then it has been to Spain and Bulgaria, it even disappeared from the calendar in 2008 and 2010, and McDowell has welcomed the move back to the south of England.
“I believe this is a step in the right direction, coming back to London,” the world number 18 told a news conference on the eve of the event.
“When you look at the trophy and the names on it, this tournament deserves a great spot in the calendar. It deserves a quality venue like this one this week.
“This event needs to be reinstated to its former glory and we’ll do everything we can to support that.”
This is the final year of Volvo’s sponsorship and McDowell does not want the World Match Play to disappear from the calendar again.
“Volvo have done a phenomenal job for this tournament and we don’t want to be losing this event,” said the 2010 U.S. Open champion.
“They have kept this tournament alive for the last three or four years and now it’s great to be back in London. This is where it belongs.”
The 35-year-old McDowell has had two and a half weeks off and admits it has been tricky coming down from the high he experienced when helping Europe beat the United States at the Ryder Cup in Scotland last month.
“It took me probably the best part of a week and a half to get over it,” said the Florida-based professional. “I got a bout of flu when I came home.
“It’s amazing, it’s the first time I’ve been ill in any shape or form this year. You’re coming off the high emotionally, physically and mentally of the Ryder Cup,” added McDowell who beat Thai Thongchai Jaidee 2 & 1 in last year’s final in Bulgaria.
“There’s a come down, there’s no doubt about it. When you have so much adrenaline flying through your system, you’ve got to come off that and sometimes your body is a little susceptible to getting ill.”
The Northern Irishman, seeded second this week behind world number five Henrik Stenson, is in the same round-robin group as Dutchman Joost Luiten, Mikko Ilonen of Finland and Frenchman Alexander Levy who won last week’s rain-shortened Portugal Masters.
The top two in each of the four groups go through to the quarter-final stage of a tournament that has a total prize fund of 2.25 million euros ($2.85 million).
($1 = 0.7905 euro)
Editing by Ed Osmond