Match Play Memories
The inaugural winner of the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth in 1964 was the legendary Arnold Palmer. He and Gary Player were to dominate the first five years of the Championship with Palmer winning twice and Player three times. Player went on to win two more titles and was involved in many dramatic matches round the West Course; the most memorable of which was his comeback from seven down after 19 holes in 1965 against Tony Lema, only to win at the 37th hole.
Bob Charles, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Wieskopf – all Open Champions – put their names on the trophy in the 1969, 1970 and 1972 respectively, and US Open Champion Hale Irwin played in three successive finals between 1974 and 1976, winning twice.
The early 1980s were dominated by Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros who won the title three and four times respectively between 1980 and 1986. Ballesteros was later to win again in 1991 to equal Player’s record of five victories in the Championship. After 23 years without a home success, there were five British victories in a six year period between 1987 and 1992. Ian Woosnam from Wales won the title in 1987 and 1990, Scotland’s Sandy Lyle in 1988 and Nick Faldo, from England, won the title in 1989 and again in 1992.
In 1993 Corey Pavin broke a spell of over a decade without an American winner by defeating Faldo at the final hole, and in 1994 Ernie Els became the first South African since Player to win the title. One day short of his 25th birthday he was also the youngest player to win since Ballesteros in 1981. In 1995 and 1996 Els maintained his unbeaten record in the Championship and became the first player to win three successive titles, but in 1997 his run came to an end when he lost in the final to Vijay Singh.
The final of the 1998 World Match Play Championship was arguably the best in the history of the event with the World No.2 Mark O’Meara coming back from four down – the best ever recovery in a final – against the World No.1 Tiger Woods to win on the final green. In 1999 O’Meara again reached the final, but this time came up against an in-form World No.3 Colin Montgomerie who went through the week at 29 under par with just four bogeys to take the title for the first time. Montgomerie also reached the final in 2000, but despite being 37 under par for the week and breaking the previous 18 hole record with an 11 under par 61 in the earlier rounds, lost to fellow British golfer Lee Westwood in a thrilling low-scoring final at the 38th hole.
In 2001 however, Woosnam and Padraig Harrington created even more records in an extraordinary final in which the Welshman equalled his own record of seven successive birdies and broke the front nine scoring record in 28 strokes. Harrington also equalled the championship back nine record of 30 strokes. Together they had a record 32 birdies in the final in which Woosnam came back from three down to win 2&1 and become the first player to win the title in three different decades.
In 2002 Els – who scored a record 12 under par 60 in an earlier round – won his fourth title defeating the youngest ever finalist Sergio Garcia. The South African went on to win the 40th edition in 2003 to equal Player’s and Ballesteros’ joint record of five victories, claiming the record first prize of £1 million. In 2004 Els completed another hat-trick of victories to win the title for a record sixth time, but he was unable to defend his title in 2005 due to a knee injury when the US Open Champion Michael Campbell defeated Paul McGinley in the final. In 2006 Paul Casey won the title at his first attempt with a record 10&8 victory in the final against Shaun Micheel. Then in 2007 Els defeated US Open Champion Angel Cabrera in the final for a remarkable seventh title in just twelve appearances in the Championship.
In 2009 the World Match Play Championship left Wentworth for the first time in its 45 year history, moving to the glorious location of Finca Cortesin Hotel, Golf and Spa in Spain. With Volvo in place as the new title sponsor there was also new qualification criteria and a ‘champions league’ style group format. England’s Ross Fisher beat Anthony Kim 4&3 in the final, coming through a stellar field which boasted eleven of the World’s top 30 ranked players and eleven different nationalities.
Further enhancements were made to the format in 2011 for the second edition of the Volvo World Match Play, which saw the strongest ever field in the history of the Championship – now increased to 24 players – with six of the then current top ten players in the world, including the world numbers 1, 2 and 3. It was Ian Poulter who once again proved what a fantastic match play golfer he is, by taking the title in a memorable final against Luke Donald, eventually winning 2&1.
2012 turned out to be the final time the Championship would be held at Finca Cortesin. After two great semi-final matches on Sunday morning, which saw Nicolas Colsaerts eventually beat Paul Lawrie at the 20th hole, after being 4-down, and Graeme McDowell beating home favourite Rafael Cabrera-Bello, the final was a tight match, but it was Colsaerts who took the title 1-up and in doing so he secured the biggest win of his career.
In October 2012 Volvo and IMG announced that the 2013 Volvo World Match Play Championship would be played at the breathtaking Thracian Cliffs, a Gary Player designed signature course, and the first time a full European Tour event will be played in Bulgaria. Framed by rugged coastal cliffs and the vast blue of the Black Sea, which can be viewed from each and every hole, Thracian Cliffs is arguably one of the most dramatic golf courses on earth. Gary Player once commented, “You will not find a golf course like this anywhere else on the planet.” Underlining the unique features of this new venue, Thracian Cliffs has also been called ‘the Pebble Beach of Europe’.