Ahead of the opening ties of the 48th edition of the Volvo World Match Play Championship, europeantour.com explores the octet of famous and perhaps somewhat less well-known names behind the groups.
The 24-man field present at Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, 50 years after the inaugural World Match Play was contested, are split into eight groups of three for the first round – to be held on Thursday and Friday – all named after historic figures in Volvo, IMG or World Match Play folklore.
The longest-running individual match play tournament in the world today, the contest has history in spades having always attracted some of the leading players in the world. Indeed, since the legendary Arnold Palmer became the first World Match Play champion back in 1964, a further 17 Major champions have prevailed in the event, winning a staggering total of 168 Majors between them during that time.
When the tournament returned in 2011 following a year’s break, the previously 16-man field was expanded to 24 and the amount of groups for the round-robin increased to eight.
With the opening head-to-head clashes almost upon us, here’s the whos and whys behind the eight names that were given the honour of bestowing their names upon those groups…
Needs no introduction. A European golfing legend and a man whose name is synonymous with the match play form of the game. A superlative career offered a CV no other European golfer can match with five Major wins, 50 European Tour triumphs, 37 other titles worldwide, and of course a stellar Ryder Cup record (20 points from 37 matches) crowned by his winning performance as Captain in 1997 at Valderrama. Along with the man below, shares the all-time appearance record at the World Match Play Championship with 20 caps, having claimed the title on five occasions between 1981 and 1991. Never a beaten finalist. Never forgotten.
That one of the groups is bequeathed his name is doubly-appropriate during the 2013 edition of the championship, considering the spectacular signature course at Thracian Cliffs was designed by his fair hand. As mentioned above, with 20 appearances in the World Match Play he sits alongside the late, great Seve as the most experienced of all World Match Play participants, having also prevailed five times in the event between 1965 and 1973, while also finishing runner-up the following year after American Hale Irwin triumphed 3&1 in the final. Is thrilled that his so-called Pebble Beach of Europe is this week hosting what has always been one of his favourite events.
Perhaps one of the most influential figures in the establishment of golf as a global super-sport. A lawyer by trade, after organising one-day golf exhibitions in the 1950s he signed Arnold Palmer and subsequently founded and chaired the International Management Group (IMG) , an organisation that would go on to become one of the most successful sports and media businesses in the world. In 1964, he set up IMG’s very first golf event – the World Match Play Championship – that was conveniently won by Palmer. Since then, over the last half a century, IMG has staged over 750 golf tournaments worldwide – including over 250 European Tour events.
Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson
The 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship is the fourth to have been sponsored by Volvo and co-organised by IMG and Volvo, and two principal figures in the Swedish company’s revered history have since 2011 been honoured with heading the name of a pair of the round robin groups. The Scandinavian manufacturer was incorporated in 1915 as a subsidiary of AB SKF, the Swedish ball bearing manufacturer. In 1924, Gabrielsson and Larson, the two founders, decided to start construction of a Swedish car. Three years later, the first mass-produced Volvo car rolled off the production line at the Lundby factory in Göteborg. The first truck, Series 1, was presented in January 1928 and was an immediate success. From the very start, the company's two owners decided to construct vehicles that were safe and could withstand the harsh conditions posed by Sweden's cold climate and the poor road conditions of that time. Since vehicles are driven by people, the founders' view was that: "Safety is - and must always be - the basic principle in all design work."
His stellar European Tour career is often best-remembered for that memorable Masters Tournament triumph in 1991 but has a superb match play record, too, having contested in nine Ryder Cups (winning five times out of eight as a player, while triumphing as a non-playing Captain in 2006). Won the World Match Play three times, the first in 1987 when he defeated fellow Brit Sandy Lyle by one, with the last coming 14 years later in 2001 when the Welshman overcame Ireland’s Padraig Harrington 2&1 on Wentworth Club’s cherished West course.
The Great White Shark, who spent a total of 331 weeks as the world’s Number One golfer during the 1980s and 1990s, always had a golfing style perfect for match play success. Aggression, tenacity, raw talent and sheer will propelled the Australian to three victories in nine appearances at the World Match Play between 1980 and 1992.
The American legend beat Neil Coles 2&1 in the final of the very first World Match Play Championship in 1964 and with it launched what would become the oldest and most revered individual match play competition in golf. IMG’s first client, made eight appearances at the World Match Play between the inaugural year and 1983, triumphing for a second time in 1967 when he defeated Australian Peter Thomson by two holes in the final.