Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)
Graeme McDowell hailed the unique nature of The European Tour on the Northern Irishman’s first visit to Bulgaria for the Volvo World Match Play Championship.
The former US Open Champion has been drawn alongside Stephen Gallacher and Chris Wood in the Seve Ballesteros group, with the top two progressing to the weekend knock-out rounds at the stunning Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort.
“It's what The European Tour is all about really,” McDowell said ahead of Bulgaria becoming the 40th different country to stage a European Tour event.
“We have certainly been taking tournaments to new events, to new places around the world, pioneering some professional golf in Asia and some amazing places really.
“It's cool to be able to come to a place like Bulgaria, somewhere where I've never been before, experience a new culture - introducing them to golf really. We are talking about a nation who certainly don't know very much about golf, I think that's what's great about The European Tour.
“It's certainly why I think this is a great learning experience for young pros and I think The European Tour certainly broadens your horizons. The PGA Tour can be a little one dimensional, great conditions every week; same conditions every week, weather and hotels and restaurants and I think what's great about The European Tour is all the new cultures and new environments and new places that we play. You've got to adapt your game and you've got to dig in there sometimes.
“The camaraderie that this tour promotes because of the way we travel, I think that is what's very unique and it's what's great about this Tour and why we are certainly trying to get behind it and try and put it back on the map - we need sponsors like Volvo in golf really trying to carry us through what is a tough time right now, no doubt about that. We appreciate these kinds of sponsors who are really looking to grow the game globally.”
The European Tour’s latest venue has drawn favourable comparisons with the legendary Pebble Beach, and McDowell has quickly become a fan of the Gary Player-designed layout.
“Obviously it's a stunning, stunning location,” he added. “I watched a video on the website and Gary Player waxing lyrical about the many golf courses he's done around the world and just how special the location is here; I'm inclined to agree with him.
“I came in on helicopter on Monday which was pretty special. Got a chance to see this amazing piece of land from the air and it's a nice golf course, as well. It's tricky - there's a lot of other clubs off tees and you've really got to position the ball, and it's interesting, no doubt about it.
“I think it's a really well done golf course. I think it's going to be a fantastic match play golf course and it's going to look extremely good on TV which is most important for Volvo as a sponsor.
“I think it will be certainly a great advertisement for golf in Bulgaria, as well. That's certainly an emerging country from a golf point of view and hopefully they will enjoy the week.”
On his chances of progressing past the round robin stage, which sees 24 players split into eight groups, McDowell was cautious not to underestimate two opponents who won titles during The Middle East swing earlier in the year.
And despite taking nothing for granted, the World Number Eight already has his eyes on a potential final showdown with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry on Sunday afternoon.
“My form is really good,” he continued. “My game is ticking over nicely, taking some nice form, and it’s nice to be back in Europe for a couple weeks.
“This match play format is obviously a little fickle so you just have to take each game as it comes. You certainly can't take anybody lightly this weekend.
“Chris Wood obviously won earlier in the year at Qatar, good player; I like the way he plays, and Stephen Gallacher is one of those streaky players - when he gets going, he's hard to beat, he's long and strikes it great.
“There are no easy matches this week, there really isn't. It’s just a case of getting out there and hoping you can get the job done. I don't think there's such a thing as an easy group looking down the list, so just have to put my head down Thursday and Friday and hope for the best really.
“Playing Shane - it's pleasing to be able look at the draw and say ‘hopefully see you Sunday afternoon’. That would be obviously very special. I played 18 holes with him yesterday and he's a great player and proved how good of a match play player he is earlier in the year, but there's a lot of guys that are going to be expecting to be there Sunday afternoon, as well.”
Another former US Open Champion eyeing success this week is Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who has previous in this format having won the WGC-Accenture Match Play on two occasions.
“I love the format obviously and I've had some success and I enjoy playing it,” said Ogilvy. “You play so much of your amateur game match play or you finish a lot of your tournaments match play - I really like it.
“It’s nice to have a couple of chances a year; and then I get the Presidents Cup and there's The Ryder Cup, so people get to watch it semi-regularly I guess.
“When people go home and just play with their friends, most people play match play very regularly.
“It's a great way to play the game and it's a shame it's not more prevalent in professional golf, but it's great that tournaments like this have hung in there for a long time, historic ones, and the other one, the Accenture or the WGC, it's nice if you get a couple of chances at this format, because I think everybody enjoys it when they do it.”