Poulter, defending champ and match- play specialist, is man to beat in Spain

Ian Poulter
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Defending champion Ian Poulter is the only man with victories in both the Volvo World Match Play Championship and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
By
Steve Douglas
Associated Press

Series: European Tour

CASARES, Spain -- Given his excellent Ryder Cup record and his unprecedented double in individual match-play tournaments, Ian Poulter's preferred format for the 2016 Olympics is no surprise.

''I don't know where they are with their decision-making ... but I think match play would suit the Olympics better than a stroke-play event,'' the Englishman said Wednesday.

The proposed Olympic competition for men and women is a 72-hole individual stroke-play tournament, but Poulter surely would be installed among the favorites if there was a late change.

One of the grittiest players on the circuit, Poulter looks to be the man to beat when he defends his title at this week's Volvo World Match Play Championship in Spain.

''He seems to make the clutch putts,'' said Justin Rose, one of Poulter's rivals this week. ''He's just one of those competitive guys, eye-to-eye, hates to lose.''

Poulter, the only player to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in the United States and the Volvo version on the European Tour, ground out a 4 and 2 victory over Luke Donald -- then the world's top player -- in last year's final.

Twelve months later, he has an even bigger incentive to win in southern Spain -- it's the year of the Ryder Cup, an event close to Poulter's heart.

''I love match play. I love the buzz of it. I like looking straight at the guys you are playing. It puts you under pressure and it's a great format we don't play enough of,'' Poulter said. ''Especially being a Ryder Cup year, it would be important for me to have a big week this week.''

With the biennial match with the United States a little more than four months away, Europe's entrants couldn't pick a better tournament to impress team Captain Jose Maria Olazabal than this.

The world's top three players -- Europeans Rory McIlroy, Donald and Lee Westwood -- have decided to skip the event. But No. 9 Martin Kaymer, No. 12 Rose and 2010 Ryder Cup star Graeme McDowell are among the field.

Brandt Snedeker, who is vying for a spot on the U.S. 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.

Snedeker hopes his clubs arrive for the event. On Monday, his plane made an emergency landing en route to Spain after a passenger suffered a heart attack. His suitcase and clubs were lost, forcing him to use a makeshift set for Wednesday's pro-am.

Snedeker was drawn in a group alongside veteran Dane Thomas Bjorn and South Africa's Branden Grace. There are eight groups of three players in the round-robin format, with the top two in each advancing to the last 16.

Grace is looking to become the first player to win four European Tour events in his first season after graduation from qualifying school. The omens are good for the 23-year-old South African. He won his last match-play event 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 after winning the Volvo 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 are in the same group along with Japan's Tetsuji Hiratsuka, while Rose, British Open champion Darren Clarke and Robert Rock will clash in an all-British group. Clarke hasn't made a halfway cut all season and is without a top-10 finish since his victory at Royal St. George's last July.

''My pride has been hurt,'' Clarke said. ''I've been so frustrated with the whole thing because I've been trying so hard, too hard probably. Not to justify the Open win, but to back it up.''

Scotland's Paul Lawrie is one of five other major winners in the field and likely 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.

Poulter is grouped with John Senden of Australia and Tom Lewis of England.

Finca Cortesin is hosting the tournament for the third straight year following the switch from its longstanding venue of Wentworth in England. Organizers said Tuesday that the event will be moved next year, possibly outside Europe for the first time in its illustrious 47-year history.