KAVARNA, Bulgaria -- Graeme McDowell hailed the unique nature of the European Tour on the Northern Irishman’s first visit to Bulgaria for the Volvo World Match Play Championship.
The former U.S. Open Champion has been drawn alongside Stephen Gallacher and Chris Wood in the Seve Ballesteros group, with the top two progressing to the weekend knockout rounds at the stunning Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort.
“It's what the European Tour is all about, really,” McDowell said ahead of Bulgaria becoming the 40th different country to stage a European Tour event. “We have certainly been taking tournaments to new events, to new places around the world, pioneering some professional golf in Asia and some amazing places really.
“It's cool to be able to come to a place like Bulgaria, somewhere where I've never been before, experience a new culture – introducing them to golf, really,” he added. “We are talking about a nation who certainly don't know very much about golf – I think that's what's great about the European Tour.
“It's certainly why I think this is a great learning experience for young pros and I think the European Tour certainly broadens your horizons. The European Tour is all the new cultures and new environments and new places that we play. You've got to adapt your game and you've got to dig in there sometimes.
The European Tour’s latest venue has drawn favorable comparisons with the legendary Pebble Beach, and McDowell has quickly become a fan of the Gary Player-designed layout.
“Obviously it's a stunning, stunning location,” he said. “I watched a video on the website and Gary Player waxing lyrical about the many golf courses he's done around the world and just how special the location is here; I'm inclined to agree with him.
“I came in on helicopter on Monday, which was pretty special. Got a chance to see this amazing piece of land from the air and it's a nice golf course, as well,” he added. “It's tricky – there's a lot of other clubs off tees and you've really got to position the ball, and it's interesting, no doubt about it. I think it's a really well done golf course. I think it's going to be a fantastic match play golf course and it's going to look extremely good on TV which is most important for Volvo as a sponsor.”
On his chances of progressing past the round robin stage, which sees 24 players split into eight groups, McDowell was cautious not to underestimate two opponents who won titles during the Middle East Swing earlier in the year. And despite taking nothing for granted, the World No. 8 already has his eyes on a potential final showdown with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry on Sunday afternoon.
“My form is really good,” McDowell said. “My game is ticking over nicely, taking some nice form, and it’s nice to be back in Europe for a couple weeks. This match play format is obviously a little fickle so you just have to take each game as it comes. You certainly can't take anybody lightly this weekend.”
Another former U.S. Open Champion eyeing success this week is Australian Geoff Ogilvy, who has previous in this format having won the WGC-Accenture Match Play on two occasions.
“I love the format obviously and I've had some success and I enjoy playing it,” said Ogilvy. “You play so much of your amateur game match play or you finish a lot of your tournaments match play – I really like it. It’s nice to have a couple of chances a year; and then I get the Presidents Cup and there's the Ryder Cup, so people get to watch it semi-regularly I guess.”
“It's a great way to play the game and it's a shame it's not more prevalent in professional golf, but it's great that tournaments like this have hung in there for a long time, historic ones, and the other one, the Accenture or the WGC, it's nice if you get a couple of chances at this format, because I think everybody enjoys it when they do it.”
The Volvo World Match Play field:
Seve Ballesteros Group: Graeme McDowell, Chris Wood, Stephen Gallacher
Assar Gabrielsson Group: Ian Poulter, Thongchai Jaidee, Thomas Aiken
Arnold Palmer Group: Peter Hanson, George Coetzee, Shane Lowry
Gustaf Larson Group: Bo Van Pelt, Richard Sterne, Geoff Ogilvy
Ian Woosnam Group: Branden Grace, Nicolas Colsaerts, Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Greg Norman Group: Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari, Felipe Aguilar
Mark McCormack Group: Thorbjorn Olesen, Carl Pettersson, Scott Jamieson
Gary Player Group: Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Jamie Donaldson, Brett Rumford