The European Tour arrives in pastures new this week for the Volvo World Match Play Championship, as Bulgaria becomes the 40th different country to host an event on the International Schedule.
The stunning Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort, in Kavarna on the Black Sea coast, is the destination for 24 of the best players in the world, including defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts, match play specialist Ian Poulter, World Number Eight Graeme McDowell and South African Branden Grace, who won two Volvo-sponsored events in a stellar 2012 season.
The players will be drawn in eight groups of three, with the round robin matches taking place on Thursday and Friday before Saturday’s knockout round and the semi-finals and final on Sunday.
Last year Colsaerts claimed the second European Tour title of his career, having won the Volvo China Open in 2011. The big-hitting Belgian beat McDowell by one hole in the final at Finca Cortesin GC, in Spain, and the 30 year old is relishing a change from normal stroke play.
“I am really looking forward to defending my title at this new venue, and am fired up for a week of match play golf,” he said. “I really enjoy the format of this tournament, and would love my first win of the year to come at the Volvo World Match Play Championship.
“It would be amazing to be able to successfully defend my title at Thracian Cliffs and win Bulgaria’s first full European Tour event.”
Poulter has built a reputation as one of the most feared players in match play golf, thanks to his brilliant Ryder Cup performances and victories in the 2011 edition of this event and the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
By his own admission, the Englishman has not been reaching his usual high standards in recent weeks, but the fierce competition of match play might be just what he needs to spark a return to form.
The 37 year old said: “Everyone knows I love match play, and I can’t wait for this week as it’s one of my favourite tournaments of the year. Having played all around the world since I turned professional in 1994, it isn’t often I get to visit a new country so I am definitely looking forward to visiting Bulgaria.
“Having seen the photos of Thracian Cliffs and heard many great things about the course, I think it is going to be a very special week.”
Poulter will be joined by other 2012 Ryder Cup team-mates Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari, as well as rising star Thorbjørn Olesen – who finished in the top ten in the Masters Tournament on his debut last month – Swede Henrik Stenson and Australian Rumford, who stormed to an Asian double in the Ballantine’s Championship and the Volvo China Open.
If Rumford were to make it a hat-trick of victories this week, he would become the first player to win three European Tour events in succession since the late, great Spaniard Seve Ballesteros achieved the feat in 1986.
The prize fund for the 2013 edition has risen by €250,000 to €3million, with the winner taking home €800,000.
Designed by South African legend Gary Player and dubbed the “Pebble Beach of Europe”, Thracian Cliffs has been lauded as one of the most dramatic courses in the world.
“You will not find a golf course like this anywhere else on the planet,” said Player.