The draw for the 47th Volvo World Match Play Championship has been completed with the eight unseeded players drawn at random to produce a host of eye-catching encounters...
Ian Poulter will launch the defence of his Volvo World Match Play title at Finca Cortesin on Thursday against the World Number 35, Australia’s John Senden.
Making up the final place in the ‘Gary Player Group’ following the draw on Tuesday afternoon is exciting English prospect Tom Lewis, who won his maiden European Tour title in stunning fashion at the 2011 Portugal Masters in only his third start as a professional, and the 21 year old will take on the defending champion in what promises to be an intriguing encounter between the compatriots on Friday afternoon.
Scotland’s Paul Lawrie is making his 500th appearance on The European Tour this week and the 1999 Open Champion will be marking the occasion with a testing opening clash against the in-form Swede, Peter Hanson, on Thursday morning.
Hanson has already accrued four top five finishes in six starts so far this season, most notably a tied third finish at the first Major of the year, the Masters Tournament at Augusta, where the Ryder Cup star led going into the final round before eventually finishing two shy of the deciding play-off after a closing 73, while Lawrie has already hoisted a trophy aloft this season in the shape of the Qatar Masters title in February. Columbia’s Camillo Villegas fills the final place in an otherwise European ‘Greg Norman Group’.
Thursday’s initial exchanges also throw up an all-Spanish skirmish as crowd-favourite Sergio Garcia takes on Alvaro Quiros on Thursday afternoon in the ‘Ian Woosnam Group’ that is completed by Japanese debutant Tetsuji Hiratsuka.
Meanwhile, the third and final man to be carrying home hopes on his broad shoulders is Rafael Cabrera-Bello, who triumphed over Stephen Gallacher and Lee Westwood to claim the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February, and the Gran Canaria born 27 year old is relishing the start of a challenge that will see him face his good friend Martin Kaymer in the first tie of the ‘Seve Ballesteros Group’.
Cabrera-Bello will be attempting to become the first Spaniard to win the event since the man whose name adorns the group in which he has been drawn - Seve Ballesteros, won at the Wentworth Club in 1991.
He said: “My victory in Dubai has given me the opportunity to play in big events like this one with world class players. It's definitely been a big improvement and a big jump for me to keep progressing in this game and I’m really looking forward to the week.
“There's not a single group that you say is an easy one. All of the players who are playing here are winners; they are all really, really good players. And just the fact of being in Seve's group, obviously if there's one group to be in, I would choose that.”
And Cabrera-Bello is more than aware of the vagaries and uncertainty inherent in this form of the game, as he reflected in Tuesday’s preview press conference.
“It’s very commonly said, but in match play anything can happen,” he said. “We could all make the semi-finals or we could all be home by Saturday morning. Hopefully we will do as well as we can and we will try to perform our best. It's just hard to predict, because sometimes you can play badly and go through and other times you play excellent and the guy who is in front of you plays just a bit better and he knocks you out.”
Germany’s Kaymer was defeated by Donald in the semi-finals last year so will be looking to go one better this time around, while Englishman Richard Finch will make up the remainder of their group.
The ‘Mark McCormack Group’ features the only American in the field, World Number 26 Brandt Snedeker, and it is a mini-league that also boasts a pair of European Tour Members with six Tour victories between them in the last 16 months, Denmark’s Thomas Björn and South Africa’s Branden Grace, who will face each other on Friday morning.
In consecutive weeks in the late summer of 2011 Björn won the Omega European Masters and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, two victories to supplement the Qatar Masters triumph of earlier that year, while his younger opponent Grace has put together a scintillating run of form since gaining his European Tour card at the Qualifying School in December.
The Pretorian was victorious in his last run out at the Volvo China Open, claiming the biggest prize in his career at almost €400,000, after back-to-back successes on home soil at the Joburg Open and Volvo Golf Champions – an impressive performance that saw Grace prevail over his childhood heroes and compatriots Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off – earlier in the year.
Grace will be seeking a piece of history this week at Finca Cortesin, as he looks to become the first to win four events in the season after graduating from Qualifying School.
The aforementioned Goosen will be going head-to-head with another South African in the ‘Arnold Palmer Group’ when he faces 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel on Friday afternoon.
Two-time Major Champion Goosen will be making his 11th appearance at the Volvo World Match Play this week – more than any other in the field – in a group that also features big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, who was defeated by eventual winner Poulter on the 19th hole of last year’s semi-final.
Sweden’s Robert Karlsson was drafted in as a last minute replacement for the injured Paul Casey and will compete in the opening match-ups against Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and the fourth South African in the field, 2011 Avantha Masters Champion Jbe Kruger in the ‘Gustaf Larson Group’.
“I was obviously very lucky to be here, because Paul Casey wasn't able to be here,” Karlsson said. “I'm delighted to be here I'm looking forward to play. Even though it was a very late call, Sunday afternoon at three or four hours before the flight from Orlando, I knew immediately I was coming here. I have a wife on the way with some clothing!”
An all-British contingent makes up the remaining ‘Assar Gabrielsson Group’, an eye-catching trio of WGC-Cadillac Champion Justin Rose, Abu Dhabi HSBC victor Robert Rock and the reigning Open Champion Darren Clarke.
Per Ericsson, President of Volvo Event Management, said: “We at Volvo have been waiting almost a year for this day, waiting for the qualifying through The Race to Dubai, World Rankings and through winning Majors.
“This is our 127th sponsored event – a world record in itself – and the 47th playing of the Volvo World Match Play Championship. We have players from all areas in the world, 13 different countries represented and six Major Champions.
“It promises to be a very good week; the stage is set, the stars are here, and let's hope for the best man to win.”