| Jim Furyk will be one of the notable absentees
Wentworth (England): The old adage that ‘money talks’ is starting to fall on deaf ears in the dollar rich world of golf.
When the new sponsors of the revamped World Match Play championship announced the winner would walk away with £1 million ($1.6 million), the largest prize ever offered in Europe, few thought the cream of golf could resist such a lure.
But US Open champion Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, David Love, David Toms and Kenny Perry all declined the offer of adding another million to their swollen bank accounts.
“I would much rather get in my truck and drive to Greensboro than fly overseas,” declared Love. “I don’t have to chase the money.”
Also missing is Tiger Woods whose golf foundation outing in Southern California clashes with the World Match Play.
The absence of top stars has left sponsors HSBC with a line-up they never expected when they first formulated the new way of selecting players, based on performances in the four Majors and world rankings.
No one expected the British Open to be won by Ben Curtis. Only slightly better known is Shaun Micheel, the USPGA champion. The 26-year-old Curtis plans to visit Royal St George, scene of his amazing Open victory.
“It feels really good to be back in England,” enthused the American. The Match Play championship gives Curtis a chance to answer his critics who suggest he is a one-win wonder who will vanish as quickly as he arrived at the top.
Before his Open win Curtis had done little on the American Tour, a tenth place finish being his best showing. He has done little following the Open win, finishing well down the field in the Lancome, missing the cut in the PGA and taking a lowly 66th spot in the WGC championship.
A first round bye means Curtis’ opening match will be on Friday and he will play the winner of the clash between Sweden’s Frederik Jacobson and American Chad Campbell. All eyes will be on defending champion Ernie Els, trying to match the record five victories of Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros.
Els is the only player to have won three consecutive titles, in 1994, 1995 and 1996, and following his fourth win last year also holds the record for the best singles round (12-under for 18 holes) and best match score (15-under for 31 holes).
The South African, who lives alongside the famed Wentworth course, opens against the winner of the Tim Clarke-Stephen Leaney match. Europe’s hopes rest on Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn and Germany’s Alex Cejka.
Bjorn, whose closing holes meltdown at Royal St George handed Curtis the Open championship, faces American Len Mattiace. A victory would see him go up against Masters Champion Mike Weir.