No Britons invited to play for the big prize at Wentworth
Tuesday 30 September 2003
There will be no home player in the World Match Play Championship, at Wentworth next month, for the first time in its 40-year history. Under the new qualification system based on performances in major championships, no Briton has received an invitation for a tournament won by the likes of Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood.
Ernie Els, the defending champion, heads the 12-man field but Tiger Woods, the world No 1, leads the list of those who are unable to make the trip to London in order to play for the outrageous first prize of £1m. Woods, who has played in the event only once - when he lost to Mark O'Meara in the 1998 final - had a prior commitment with a clinic for his own charitable foundation.
For the first time in a few years, three of the four major winners will be appearing, including the unlikely Open champion, Ben Curtis, along with the Canadian Mike Weir, who won the Masters, and the USPGA champion, Shaun Micheel.
Apart from Els, who will be aiming to tie the record of five titles by Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros, the only other former champion in the field is Fiji's 1997 winner, Vijay Singh. The only reason that three Europeans qualified was due to other players ahead of them on the points list not being able to take part.
Thomas Bjorn, of Denmark, the runner-up at the Open, Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson and Alex Cejka, of Germany, were the beneficiaries of withdrawals by Woods, Jim Furyk, the US Open champion, and Kenny Perry, who all qualified automatically, and the alternatives, Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Davis Love. Cejka, who was fourth in the USPGA, finished 18th on the qualifying list but not even Justin Rose, who was fifth in the US Open, was placed in the top 20.
In the early days the tournament, which was founded by the late Mark McCormack in 1964, was a showcase for the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Player. Later, Ballesteros and Greg Norman made it their own before Woosnam became the first Briton to win in 1987.
The crowds flocked to see the European stars, but the event has lost a little lustre in recent years because it lost its world ranking points status, could not match the huge money on offer at the World Golf Championships, and Woods refused to come back. Yet the standard of play and the interest remained high.
When HSBC took over as the sponsor this year they decided to hike up the prize fund - only the Sun City Challenge has a bigger first prize at $2m (£1.2m) - and put in place a qualifying system. When such a quirky year in the majors unfolded their timing proved unfortunate, but there was no leeway to include, for example, a leading player in the world rankings from each of the major golfing regions worldwide.
WORLD MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP (Wentworth, 16-19 October): E Els (SA), M Weir (US), B Curtis (SA), S Micheel (US), V Singh (Fiji), C Campbell (US), L Mattiace (US), S Leaney (Aus), T Clark (SA), T Bjorn (Den), F Jacobson (Swe), A Cejka (Ger).
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