New sponsor could herald World Match Play changes

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VIRGINIA WATER, England, Oct 15 (Reuters) Organisers of the World Match Play Championship have hinted a new title sponsor could herald a fresh look for the 45th edition of the tournament next year.

The HSBC bank ended its five-year association with the Wentworth event when South African Ernie Els beat Angel Cabrera 6 and 4 yesterday to lift the title for a record seventh time.

The Match Play has a long and proud tradition, boasting Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman as former winners, but organisers IMG want to make sure it continues to move with the times.

''It is very rare to have an event that has over 40 years of history and is seen as part of the fabric of the sporting calendar,'' IMG's Guy Kinnings told Reuters.

''But it is still very flexible. There are certain elements that have always remained the same, it has always been held at Wentworth and matches have always been over 36 holes, but actually you can change things.'' Kinnings cited the outgoing title sponsor as an example of a company willing to look at the event from a new perspective.

''When HSBC came in they wanted it not to be seen as an invitational (16-man) event, they wanted it based around the majors so that players qualified for the tournament via their performance in the majors,'' he said.

''They also wanted to have the biggest first prize in golf of 2.04 million dollar.

TOP PLAYERS ''A new sponsor could change the way people qualify, change the format, the venue, all sorts of things. That's what has been very interesting about people who have been interested in sponsoring the tournament.'' Kinnings also said the Match Play had to continue to attract top players from around the globe.

''Despite its wonderful history it needs to be constantly progressing and not just being an old museum piece,'' he said.

''We need to find the right partners to work with in terms of title sponsors, co-sponsors, venue. We have to move with the times.

''Looking forward you want the event to attract global players.

Whatever we do, we have to make sure this time next year the players and fans will say, 'We love the Match Play...isn't it good?.'' REUTERS BJR PM1752

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