Paddy Power Match Play Special! If any match is tied after 18 holes Paddy Power will refund losing bets on that match! To check out full details of this deal and more of Paddy's money-back specials click here: Paddy Specials
The Volvo World Match Play forms part of the European Tour schedule once again this year and, being Ryder Cup year, there's extra incentive for those US and European players in attendance to put in a contending performance and impress their respective captains at the Costa Del Sol. With a decent purse on offer not only would a victory here prove a player's ability in this format, they'd also pick up a fair amount of important qualification points into the bargain. Perhaps the likes of Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood feel that they're already 100% guaranteed a place in Olazabal's team this autumn - each declined an invitation to play here - so it's up to the remaining entrants to make their mark...
The market is headed by World number 9 Martin Kaymer at a general 15/2, however with a field of just 24 players you'll also find a number of players in the 9/1 to 16/1 bracket including Garcia, Poulter, Rose, Schwartzel, Hanson, GMac, Colsaerts, Grace and American raider Brandt Snedeker. This isn't a tournament packed with value I'm afraid, plus be careful if you do back players Each Way this week as some bookies are offering 1/2 odds for the first 2, whereas others are offering 1/4 odds for the first 4 - at the time of writing, Ladbrokes & Hills were 1/2 for the first 2, but do check first.
Having spent the first 36 years of its existence at Wentworth, this event returns to the 2011 and 2009 venue in Andalucía, Spain with the Finca Cortesin Golf Club playing host once again. The course itself is reasonably long at a shade under 7,300 yards and it certainly seemed to favour the longer hitters in 2009 with Ross Fisher beating Anthony Kim in the final and Robert Allenby (who isn't short of the tee himself) beating Angel Cabrera in the consolation match, however last year saw Ian Poulter defeat Luke Donald - a true battle of the shorter-hitting Match Play specialists. What is true is that the first 11 holes contain 4 par 5s and 2 potentially driveable par 4s, so the longer players can put themselves out of sight if they take advantage early in their round. The greens are fast bent and the fairways quite wide - a perfect combination for this attacking Match Play format.
The 24-man field will play in 8 groups of 3 players on Thursday and Friday with everyone playing 2 matches - the top 2 from each of the 8 groups will go through to the weekend where it's a straight knockout with the round of 16 & quarter finals being played on Saturday, then the semis and final on Sunday. A gruelling weekend for those lucky enough to last the distance, so fatigue may come into play towards the end. For a lowdown of the groups and draw click here.
Unfortunately this event isn't as straightforward as the WGC MatchPlay to work out who will potentially play who in the latter stages given the group setup, so adopting a strategy of trying to calculate exactly which 4 players will make the semi-finals and backing them all each way 1/4 odds 1-4 isn't an option. Instead I'm going to pick 3 players who, if they can avoid each other until the latter stages, all have a chance of lifting the title in my opinion:
Match Play specialist Poulter is a must-pick for me this week - sometimes the glaringly obvious just has to be backed! The Englishman is a formidable opponent in any one-on-one situation and he once again proved his prowess in this format last season by beating Luke Donald - who himself has an excellent Match Play record overall - 2&1 in the final. In 9 attempts at the WGC Accenture Match Play he's also managed a victory, a further semi-final and 2 more quarter final appearances in what is always a much stronger field. His Ryder Cup record is excellent with 8 points delivered from a possible 11 and an incredible win ratio of 72.7% - he quite simply thrives in this format!
Poulter was Steve Bamford's top selection last week at The Players Championship and although he slipped to a disappointing 25th after grabbing a share of the lead after the first round, there's still plenty of encouragement for him to take forward as he notched 21 birdies over the 4 days (5th in the field) and his irons were in great form - there were simply too many mistakes on his card to get close enough to the lead on Sunday. That's less of an issue in this format as birdie-making is the order of the day and Ian will be licking his lips at the thought of successfully defending his title this week. RESULT: Last 16
Belgian bomber Colsaerts made the semi-finals here last year and he's in the right kind of form to repeat that again this year in my view. As one of the unseeded players here 12 months ago, Colsaerts surprised a number of people with first round victories over seasoned Match Play campaigner Retief Goosen as well as the heavily fancied Rory McIlroy, before dispatching Jonnie Vegas in the 2nd round and GMac in the quarter-finals. He took eventual winner Ian Poulter into extra holes in the semi-final, forcing the Englishman to birdies the 17th and 18th to stay in the match, before finally succumbing on the 1st extra hole. He clearly enjoyed the challenge and the course and will be keen to have another stab at this again this week.
Nicolas has enjoyed a strong start to 2012 with no missed cuts and 6 top 10s from just 10 starts - he's warming up to another victory having secured the Volvo-sponsored China Open in 2011 on a course of similar length, exposed nature and with similar green structures. He was in fine form again in China on his penultimate start when 18 birdies and 2 eagles wasn't quite enough to catch Branden Grace, however his aggressive style of play could well prove too much for his opponents, particularly in the early stages of this event. RESULT: Winner
It never hurts to back an outsider in this format and Spaniard Cabrera-Bello is my pick of the bunch of longer-priced players. Despite a lack of competitive Match Play experience, I think the 27 year old from Gran Canaria has the game to suit this course and the birdie-making capability to surprise a few people, despite being paired with Martin Kaymer in his opening match. A victory in that match isn't critical - last year's winner Ian Poulter tied both his first round matches - however a win against outsider Richard Finch on Friday should see him into the 2nd round and from there he has a chance of reaching the quarter finals at least in my opinion.
Rafa's 4 professional wins (2 Challenge Tour, 2 European Tour) have all come on open courses where birdies have to be made - winning totals of -16, -25, -20 and -18 are testament to that. His most recent win was at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year where 21 birdies and 3 bogeys was enough to take the title in a field packed with talent and a repeat of that form would see him in with more than half a chance here. 3rd in Kuala Lumpur last month was his most recent contending performance and after middle-of-the-pack finishes of 29th (China Open) and 27th (Spanish Open), I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him please the Spanish crowd with a prominent performance. RESULT: Semi-Final
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!