Six European Tour Members will be making their debuts in the World Golf Championships this week when the WGC-NEC Invitational takes place at Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio.
Zimbabwean Marc Cayeux, Stephen Dodd of Wales, England’s Nick Dougherty and Kenneth Ferrie, Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and Henrik Stenson of Sweden will all breath in the rarified air of a WGC event for the first time.
Cayeux qualifies on the strength of winning the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit while Dodd goes to Akron on the strength of two fine victories on The 2005 European Touor International Schedule in the Volvo China Open and the Nissan Irish Open, the latter event gaining him access to Firestone.
Dougherty won the Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg, Singapore 2005, while Gallacher won the 2004 dunhil links championship, and Stenson the 2004 Heritage.
Two players who have both triumphed 13 years apart at Firestone are in the field. Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke triumphed in the WGC-NEC Invitational in 2003, a victory which followed his 2000 success in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and made him the first European Tour Member to capture two WGC individual titles.
Meanwhile José Maria Olazábal won the NEC World Series of Golf by a massive 12 strokes over the famed Ohio course 15 years ago, and the Spaniard will be back at the same venue seeking the title under its current guise within the WGC umbrella.
Olazábal set the course record of 61 back in 1990 and the player who matched that score in 2000, World Number One Tiger Woods, will be attempting to win the title for a fourth time in the seven year history of the event as a WGC tournament. Woods also holds the distinction of having won the title three years in succession in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
A total of 34 European Tour Members will be competing for the first prize of €1,046,024 (£716,332) out of a total field of 72 players. Among them is Denmark’s Thomas Björn, who came within a whisker of tieing new US PGA Champion, Phil Mickelson, at Baltusrol on Monday.
Björn’s birdie putt on the 72nd hole just lipped out as Mickelson pitched brilliantly from deep rough to make the birdie he required to collect his second Major Championship.
American Ryder Cup player Stewart Cink defends the title he won by four shots from Woods and South African Rory Sabbatini last year.