Tuesday, 27 January 2004
A galaxy of champions on The European Tour will converge on Alpine Golf & Sports Club in Bangkok, Thailand, for the 2004 Johnnie Walker Classic. South Africa’s Ernie Els, fresh from his dramatic play-off victory in the Sony Open in Hawaii, defends his crown in a world class field including two of last year’s Major Champions, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel.

Els is one of five winners of the Volvo Order of Merit playing in the Johnnie Walker Classic, which returns to Alpine Golf & Sports Club for the second time, three years after Tiger Woods captured the title in his mother’s native country.

Twelve months ago at Lake Karrinyup Country Club in Perth, Western Australia, he won the title in considerable style, smashing numerous records en route to victory. His winning total of 259 (-29) was the lowest winning score to par ever recorded on The European Tour, beating the previous best of 261 (-27) by Jerry Anderson in the Ebel European Masters – Swiss Open at Crans-sur-Sierre in 1984.

The day before, Els had also set the European Tour low record for 54 holes when he ended the third round on 23 under par 193, and his ten shot winning margin over the Australian duo of Stephen Leaney and Andre Stolz was not only the biggest of the season but also also the biggest in the tournament’s history, beating the eight shot win recorded by Retief Goosen the previous year.

Twelve months on Els will be seeking to once again add his name to the history books by becoming the first player to successfully defend the title.

No player has won the prestigious Johnnie Walker Classic three times since the event started in 1990 and Els, whose two previous triumphs were achieved in Australia, intends to be the first.

“It’s always difficult to defend as there is a bit of extra pressure. But I defended successfully in Hawaii and it will probably help me this week. In Hawaii, I took the previous year out of my mind and focused on the week ahead. That’s what I’ll try to do here. What ever that happened last year is history,” said Els

Curtis, the reigning Open Golf Champion, makes his debut in the Johnnie Walker Classic, having taken up Membership of The European Tour for 2004. His fellow American, Shaun Micheel, the 2003 US PGA Champion, is also in the field, returning to Asia where he played on the Asian circuit in 1998, winning the Singapore Open.

“I came over and made it through (the Qualifying School) and got into the first few events and made some decent money. I remember I only had two bogeys the entire week of the Singapore Open. I got a whole new sense of confidence. I think you learn to play golf by traveling because that's a big part of playing. I’m happy to be back and I hope they are happy to have me back,” said Micheel.

The quality of the field is deeply impressive, with Curtis, Els and Micheel being joined in the line-up by six-time Major Champion, Nick Faldo of England, and Welshamn Ian Woosnam, the 1991 Masters Tournament winner.

Faldo and Woosnam are both past winners of the Johnnie Walker Classic. Faldo claimed the title at Singapore Island in 1993 while Woosnam’s victory also came in Singapore at Tanah Merah.

A total of 20 winners from The 2003 European Tour International Schedule will assemble in Bangkok, including South African Trevor Immelman, who made a successful defence of his South African Airways Open title on home soil at Erinvale Golf Club in the Western Cape.

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