World Match Play in Ryder Cup's shadow
With the Ryder Cup a little more than four months away, Europe's top players couldn't pick a better tournament to impress team captain Jose Maria Olazabal than this week's World Match Play Championship in southern Spain.
The world's top three - Europeans Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood - have all chosen to skip one of only two match-play events on the calendar, but No. 9 Martin Kaymer, No. 12 Justin Rose, 2010 Ryder Cup star Graeme McDowell and defending champion Ian Poulter are among the big names present.
Poulter ground out a victory over Donald - then the world's in-form player - in last year's final, proving again that he is one of the grittiest performers in a format that doesn't always reward the lowest scorer.
''I love the cut and thrust of match play and find it a refreshing change from the usual stroke-play format we play week in, week out,'' said Poulter, who is coming off a 25th-place finish at the Players Championship in the United States. ''With the fact it's Ryder Cup year, I think it will be even more exciting.''
Brandt Snedeker, who is battling to be part of the United States team for the match in Medinah near Chicago from Sept. 28-30, is the only American in the 24-man field at the Finca Cortesin course near Malaga.
There are eight groups of three players in the round-robin format, with the top two from each going through to the last 16.
Snedeker was drawn in a group alongside veteran Dane Thomas Bjorn and South Africa's Branden Grace, who has taken the European Tour by storm this year and is looking to become the first player to win four events in his first season after graduation from qualifying school.
The omens are good for the 23-year-old South African, too - he won his last match-play event back in his native country six years ago.
''It's come all at once, it's a bit of a shock,'' Grace said of his current form which has seen him capture the China Open, Volvo Golf Champions and the Joburg Open.
''I couldn't ask for a better spot. I think at this time, I'm just running with the emotion and the positives.''
Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Alvaro Quiros were named in the same group, while Rose, British Open champion Darren Clarke and Robert Rock will clash in an all-British group.
Scotland's Paul Lawrie is one of five other major winners in the field and is currently in line to make Europe's Ryder Cup lineup having already won the Qatar Masters this season. This will be the 1999 British Open winner's 500th European Tour event, making him only the 22nd player to achieve that feat.
Finca Cortesin is staging the tournament for the third straight year following the switch from its longstanding venue of Wentworth in England. Organizers said Tuesday, however, that the event will be moved next year, possibly outside Europe for the first time in its illustrious 47-year history.