European Tour

McDowell to defend Volvo title

Graeme McDowell (AFP)
Graeme McDowell (AFP)

London - Defending champion Graeme McDowell goes up against in-form Dutchman Joost Luiten, Mikko Illonen of Finland and the winner of last week's Portugal Masters, Alexander Levy of France, in his group for the Volvo World Match Play Championship which gets underway on Wednesday.

The 50th anniversary of the European PGA Tour event returns to England for the first time since 2007 as the London Golf Club, in Kent, makes its debut as the host venue.

Last year it was held at the Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort in Bulgaria where Northern Ireland's McDowell defeated Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee in the final.

This time around the field contains five of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team as well as US Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed.

Reed has been grouped with European winner Jamie Donaldson of Wales, Sweden's Jonas Blixt and the winner of the recent KLM Open, Paul Casey of England.

French Ryder Cup star Victor Dubuisson is up against his Europe team-mate, Stephen Gallacher of Scotland as well as Spaniard Pablo Larazzabal and Irishman Shane Lowry.

World number five Henrik Stenson of Sweden is in a group with Thongchai, Italian Francesco Molinari and South Africa's George Coetzee, the replacement for Denmark's Thomas Bjorn who withdrew this morning with a neck injury.

The field boasts nine of the world's top 50 with all 16 players ranked inside the world's top 90. There are 13 nationalities represented, boasting a total of 115 tournament titles.

Thongchai said he believed he had the opportunity to go one better this year.

"The International Course is a great track and I've really enjoyed playing it in the past," said Thongchai, who captained Asia in the inaugural EurAsia Cup earlier this year.

"The finishing holes will be very difficult, but it depends on the weather and which way the wind is blowing. But everyone has to play the same course and it should be a great week.

"I'm really looking forward to it. It's always a very well-organised tournament. I've been playing really well recently, so I hope I can continue like this and go all the way to the final again."

It is precisely 50 years since the first edition of the World Match Play Championship, which was won by Arnold Palmer at Wentworth Club.

The prestigious event remained at the Surrey venue - where it produced some great champions including Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els - until 2007, when it moved to Spain for three editions.

Volvo World matchplay draw:

Arnold Palmer Group

Henrik Stenson, Thongchai Jaidee, George Coetzee, Francesco Molinari

Mark McCormack Group

Jamie Donaldson, Patrick Reed, Jonas Blixt, Paul Casey

Assar Gabrielsson Group

Victor Dubuisson, Stephen Gallacher, Shane Lowry, Pablo Larrazabal.

Gustaf Larsson Group

Graeme McDowell, Joost Luiten, Mikko Ilonen, Alexander Levy

(The top two in each group advance to the Saturday quarter-finals, with the semi-finals and final both being staged on Sunday)

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