The future of the World Match Play Championship, one of the most prestigious tournaments on the European Tour, was placed under severe threat last night when HSBC announced that it would be ending its sponsorship of the event five years early.
To save the Wentworth showcase the Tour will now have to find a new partner to fill the £5m hole that will be left by the withdrawal of the banking giants after this year's event in October. And although yesterday there were positive noises coming from IMG, the management group who have been running the World Match Play since its inception, the outlook must be bleak. In recent years, the tournament has struggled to attract the leading Americans and many in the modern, strokeplay-obsessed game see it as an anachronism.
Nevertheless, it would be a sad end for an event which has such luminaries as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo in its roll of past winners. One name conspicuously absent from the old trophy, however, is that of Tiger Woods and his indifference to the WMP is believed to be one of the factors behind HSBC's surprise decision to cut short the 10-year deal.
Woods was back on the European Tour yesterday, playing in an exhibition match here before the Dubai Desert Classic which begins tomorrow. He is reported to be receiving £2m in appearance fees to compete on an Emirates Course surrounded by cranes making their ever-quickening march into the desert. Wentworth it is not.