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Match Play becomes golfs richest official event

The World Match Play Championship in England will expand its field to 16 players and has been designated an official event, making its £1 million first-place cheque the richest in golf.

The Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, South Africa, pays $2 million to the winner, but is an invitation-only tournament and doesn't count as official money. The Players Championship pays $1.44 million to the winner.

The purse at the HSBC World Match Play Championship, to be played Oct. 14-17 at Wentworth, will increase to £2.5 million. The money will count on the European tour money list.

The tournament was created in 1964 by Mark McCormack, the late founder of IMG, and it remains the purest form of match play with 36-hole matches from start to finish. But it didn't count as official money or toward the world ranking because of a limited field (12 players) that for years was decided by invitations, many of them IMG clients.

Now it has qualifying criteria that includes the defending champion; the No. 1 player in the world ranking as of March 31; the leading 10 available players who earn the most points from the majors; two players who earn the most points from four European tour events; and two players from the European tour money list.

Ernie Els is the defending champion and a five-time winner.

Tiger Woods, the world No. 1, has a junior clinic in Florida that week and has said he won't play. His only appearance at the World Match Play was in 1998, when he lost to Mark O'Meara in the final match.

The Accenture Match Play Championship, part of the World Golf Championships series, is played in late February at La Costa Resort in California for the top 64 players in the world ranking. The matches are 18 holes, with the championship match 36 holes.

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