Stephen Dodd enjoyed his greatest professional season in 2005 with two European Tour victories and a career-high finish of 17th on the Order of Merit, topped off last weekend by victory alongside Bradley Dredge in the WGC- Algarve World Cup in Portugal. This week the Welshman returns to the tournament where it all began when he defends his title in the Volvo China Open.
The venue in China might have changed - from the Shanghai Silport Golf Club where, 12 months ago, Dodd held off the determined challenge of Dane Thomas Björn to triumph by three shots, to the Shenzhen Golf Club - but the 39 year old’s desire for success remains the same.
It was that self-same desire which pushed him on to his second victory of the year, when he beat last week’s HSBC Champions winner David Howell in a play-off to claim the Nissan Irish Open in May, and which also saw him play his part in the winning Great Britain and Ireland Team in the Seve Trophy in September.
There was further evidence of Dodd's improved confidence in Portugal, as he and Dredge played mganificently for three days to win the rain-shortened WGC - Algarve World Cup with a 27 under par total of 189.
Dodd faces a tough challenge if he is to win again this week, both from his European Tour colleagues and those players from the Asian Tour in this co-sanctioned event. Leading the way from a European Tour perspective are two young Englishman who partnered the Welshman in the Seve Trophy triumph, namely Paul Casey and Nick Dougherty.
Casey, a four time winner on The European Tour and a member of last year’s successful European Ryder Cup Team, knows what it takes to win in China for his most recent European Tour success came in the TCL Classic at the Yalong Bay Golf Club, Sanya, Hainan Island in March where he held off Paul McGinley in a play-off to triumph.
Dougherty is no stranger to success in Asia either, having claimed his maiden European Tour victory in Singapore in January when he won the Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg at the Laguna National Golf & Country Club.
Of course there will be a strong Asian Tour contingent looking to claim the lion’s share of $1,300,000 prize fund too, headed by the Thai duo of Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant and the local Chinese favourite Lian-Wei Zhang, all of whom have tasted success on The European Tour in their careers already.
All competitors this week will find a course has been created by using elements of existing natural beauty but one where accuracy is a must when negotiating the many water features strategically positioned throughout the course’s challenging terrain.
The Volvo China Open will also be the first tournament in the official 2006 season to operate with a cut to 65 and ties, the Tour having departed from the traditional 70 and ties which had been in place for the weekend action since the start of the 2000 season.
However, the Tournament Committee made the Tour’s Executive aware of an increasing negativity amongst the Members regarding the number of occasions over the past six years when play has been in three balls and/or two tee starts at the weekends.
The large number of players making the cut often necessitated the above which had a negative commercial impact when television broadcasters finishing times were affected. It was also felt that the image of the leading group on the weekend being followed by the groups from the tenth tee, or indeed the possibility of a tournament being won by a player finishing on the ninth hole was not a desirable one for sponsors, television or spectators.
Other factors which were considered by the Tournament Committee in coming to this decision were; the demands on promoters, tournament services, volunteer operations and green keeping staff in preparing for early starts at the weekends; the amount of time players needed to practise and prepare before commencing the third and fourth rounds and the reduced options available when weather delays occur.
Keith Waters, The European Tour’s Director of International Policy, said: “This is a positive move for our sponsors, our television associates, our Members, and for everyone associated with our tournaments. It will greatly assist with the presentation and logistical operation of our tournaments at the weekends.”