Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, second and third respectively in last season’s Volvo Order of Merit, launch their 1999 campaigns this week at the Benson and Hedges Malaysian Open presented by Carlsberg at Saujana Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur.
Clarke finished the 1998 European Tour season with a superb round of 63 to win the Volvo Masters at Montecastillo. It was his second title of the year following his victory in the Benson and Hedges International Open at the Oxfordshire.
Westwood, who is attached to Saujana Golf and Country Club, also finished 1998 in style by winning back-to-back tournaments in Japan to take his tally of victories to seven for the year. Having won the Freeport-McDermott Classic in New Orleans on the US Tour at the start of the year, Westwood proceeded to win the Deutsche Bank - SAP Open TPC of Europe, the National Car Rental English Open, the Standard Life Loch Lomond and the Belgacom Open on the European Tour. Westwood also won the 1997 Benson and Hedges Malaysian Open and finished runner up in the 1998 event after a play-off with Ed Fryatt, who returns to defend his title.
Westwood said: "I’ve always enjoyed Malaysia and have managed to play well there in the past. I’m excited about the prospect of competing in such an important event at the golf club where I am attached. It is sure to be a very special event for the Saujana Golf and Country Club as well as the golf fans of Kuala Lumpur."
Also in the field will be no fewer than three other champions from the 1998 European Tour - Andrew Coltart, Mats Lanner and Thomas Levet. All but two of the Asian PGA Tour winners from last year are in the starting line-up
The Benson and Hedges Malaysian Open presented by Carlsberg marks another milestone in the history of the European Tour as the first joint-sanctioned event between the Tour and the Asian PGA Tour.
Saujana Golf and Country Club, designed by Ronald Fream, is widely regarded one of the top courses in the region. Carved from a historic oil palm plantation, the course is regularly listed in the top 100 golf resorts in the world. The tournament will be played over the Palm Course, dubbed the "Cobra" for its testing and challenging play. The par-three second, played over a huge ravine to a two-tier green, has been voted the most difficult hole in the country.
The layout winds its way through hilly terrain, lined all the way by tall imposing palm trees ready to penalise a wayward shot. Steep slopes, snaking swales, and fast greens make the course a tough test.
The second may have been voted the most difficult hole in the country but the 459-yards par four sixth is ranked stroke index one. This long, uphill hole offers a narrow fairway which slopes away from palm trees on the right towards thick vegetation and a pond on the left. The green is then guarded by bunkers on both sides.
The eighth, known as the "Stadium Hole" because of the amphitheatre-like ravine which forms the inside of the dog-leg, has another tight fairway, as does the 11th, flanked by palm trees and out of bounds.
A long, straight drive threaded between the trees on the left and mounds on the right should catch the downslope for added roll on the 15th but the downhill approach has to be played over a menacing lake which cuts into play from the left in front of the green.
The 18th is a magnificent closing hole. Measuring 575-yards this par five has a generous but bunker infested fairway which slopes from left to right. From the landing area play veers right and uphill. Westwood’s play-off challenge last year ended when his attempt to reach the green in two wound up lodged in one of the many palm trees on the right of the fairway.
Course Record: To be established