Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry fly Irish flag in spectacular Thracian Cliffs resort

Defending champion Nicolas Colsaerts is back in Bulgaria again

Aerial shot of Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium teeing off on the ninth hole at Thracian Cliffs.

Aerial shot of Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium teeing off on the ninth hole at Thracian Cliffs.

Thu, May 16, 2013, 02:00

Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (at eighth), who lost out to Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts in last year’s final, is the lowest ranked player of the world rankings competing in this week’s Volvo Matchplay in the spectacular Thracian Cliffs Golf and Beach Resort in Kavarna, Bulgaria.

McDowell’s form on the US Tour, where he has four top-10 finishes including a win in the Heritage Classic, has seen him bank almost $2 million in prizemoney stateside and move from 17th up to eighth in the world rankings.

In both money won and his ranking, the fruits of McDowell’s labours are obvious and he will seek to bring that form to Europe for a stint that will also take in next week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

McDowell and Shane Lowry, who beat Rory McIlroy in the Accenture World Matcplay enroute to the last 16, are the only two Irishmen competing in the 24-man field.

Colsaerts will hope to make life easier on himself than he did 12 months ago as he defends his title. Colsaerts did not win any of his two group games at Finca Cortesin and only progressed to the last 16 after a play-off with former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel.

The big-hitting Belgian improved as the week went on, but still needed 20 holes to beat Paul Lawrie in the semi-finals before edging past McDowell on the 18th in the final.

The 24-man field at the spectacular Thracian Cliffs in Kavarna have again been split into eight groups of three, with the top 16 players in the world rankings placed into groups and the remaining eight drawn at random today.

Malaysian Open winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat was drawn to face Colsaerts and Branden Grace, while Thomas Aiken was drawn alongside 2011 winner Ian Poulter and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee.

McDowell is up against Chris Wood and Stephen Gallacher, while Sweden’s Henrik Stenson – the only player to receive an invite rather than qualify – faces Francesco Molinari and Felipe Aguilar.

The group games will be played today and tomorrow, with the top two in each group advancing to the last 16. Those ties will be played on Saturday morning with the quarter-finals to follow and the semi-finals and final on Sunday.

McDowell believes some holes are so difficult they could prompt “concessions in the middle of the fairway, here there and everywhere”, while Australian Geoff Ogilvy – winner of the Accenture Match Play in 2009 – added: “I’m glad we are not adding them all up.”