Graeme McDowell (Getty Images)
Fresh from finishing in fourth place in The Race to Dubai, World Number 12 Graeme McDowell will this week lead a 40-strong challenge of European Tour Members to Royal Melbourne Golf Club for the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf.
McDowell, who signed off a superb season with a tied 17th finish in Dubai last week, will be making his third appearance in the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf, a tournament he came agonisingly close to winning in 2009 when he and playing partner Rory McIlroy finished joint runners-up with Sweden behind Italy’s victorious Molinari brothers, Edoardo and Francesco.
This year, McDowell will be joined in Melbourne by his compatriot Shane Lowry, who will be making his debut in the US$8 million competition.
The duo will be bidding to becoming the first Irish winners of the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf since 1997, when Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley joined forces to see off the Scottish pairing of Colin Montgomerie and Raymond Russell.
McDowell said: “I’ve always enjoyed my experiences at the World Cup, and as soon as I heard that the venue was going to be Royal Melbourne, I was very excited to be part of it again. I’m also very excited to have Shane alongside me, he’s a great player and should bring a lot to the tournament.
“Obviously there’s a format change this year as it’s more of an individual event, but there’s still national pride at stake and after losing by one a few years ago at Mission Hills, I’d love to go one better. Even though it’s not a team competition, it would still be amazing to add a World Cup win to my resumé. I think we’ll certainly be one of the favourites.”
McDowell is one of three Major Champions in the 60-man field, with Vijay Singh and Adam Scott representing Fiji and Australia respectively. Scott showed his liking for Royal Melbourne last week by successfully defending the Talisker Masters title for his second successive victory on the PGA Tour of Australasia, following his triumph the previous week in the Australian PGA Championship.
American Matt Kuchar, who defends his ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf title this week, finished runner-up behind Scott, with Singh back in third.
The only players in the field other than Kuchar with a World Cup victory on their resumé are Italian Francesco Molinari and Germany’s Marcel Siem, who won in partnership with Bernhard Langer in 2006.
Siem and Molinari will compete alongside their respective compatriots Max Kieffer and Matteo Manassero, who is the youngest player in the field.
The most experienced man is Miguel Angel Jiménez, who is making his 14th appearance in the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf alongside fellow Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello who, like Kieffer and Manassero, is also a debutant.
Another ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf rookie is France’s Victor Dubuisson, who enjoyed a stunning end to the season with victory in Turkey and a third place finish in Dubai.
The make-up of the 60-man field was based on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), with up to two players per country allowed to qualify (or four per country if they were within the top 15 of the OWGR).
The format will return to 72 holes of stroke play, with individual players competing for US$7 million of the US$8 million prize fund. The top two-ranked players from each country will compete for the team event, using combined stroke play scores.
First played in 1953, the ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf is celebrating its 57th edition of the event this year. The list of former champions reads like a who’s who of golf, with great names such as Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Sir Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els all having lifted the trophy.