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Friday, 19 March 2010

Sweden's emerging superstar Henrik Stenson and revitalised Frenchman Jean Van de Velde will challenge for the Volvo China Open crown at the Nick Faldo-designed Beijing Honghua International Golf Club this week.

 

The powerful Swede, whose prodigious length makes him such an exciting player to watch, missed the cut on his Masters Tournament debut last week while Van de Velde celebrated his selection as The European Tour’s Golfer of the Month for March by honing his game in Hong Kong.

 

Stenson, winner of The Commercialbank Qatar Masters in January, is relishing his rise towards the higher echelons of world golf and he aims to emulate Welshman Stephen Dodd (2005) and England’s Paul Casey (2006), who won the title in their debut appearance.

 

"I enjoy playing with the best players in the world and I seem to do pretty well when I do so and I just want to be up there in the big events and see how I do. I have taken some big steps in the World Ranking and so I am going to try and keep on improving," said the 30 year old Swede.

 

The dashing Van de Velde will also take aim at the Volvo China Open and arrives at the Chinese capital in good form after capturing his first victory in 13 years at the Madeira Island Open Caixa Geral de Depositos two weeks ago to underscore his well being after a long-term knee problem.

 

The Frenchman, 40 next month, was delighted to earn his winner's exemption for two years. "Last year I was blessed to get my card back and this year I'm blessed to have it for another two years. It’s also a great honour to be The European Tour Golfer of the Month for the first time.

 

“My victory in Madeira was 13 years after my first European Tour victory and means a lot to me after some difficult times with injury over the last few years.

This award is also recognition for all those sponsors, promoters and media who have supported me plus my physio Jean-Jacques Rivet. Without JJ and the rest of the medical team, I would not be back on the fairways.

 

“So this award is for them as well.  I am really looking forward to the rest of the season and intend to get myself into contention to win another tournament again soon. I don’t intend for it take another 13 years!”

 

Another Swede, Johan Edfors will be bidding to make it two out of two in China after lifting the TCL Classic on Hainan island in March. Edfors will be amongst the young stars from Europe who will be looking to edge out title holder Paul Casey, former Open Champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland and the in-form Englishman, Nick Dougherty.

 

England's Oliver Wilson, who lost in a play-off to Casey last November, will tee it up in Beijing after receiving a sponsor's invitation along with young compatriot Ross Fisher from Wentworth, who has also shone this season with three top ten finishes. Fisher, playing in his rookie year in Europe, was the third round leader in the Volvo China Open last November before finishing tied fourth.

 

Volvo was the first sponsor of professional golf in China, launching the Volvo China Open in 1995 with close cooperation with the China Golf Association and Richtone Worldwide.

 

It plays a leading role in the 21 year history of golf in China and was the first to create a 72 hole Open competition named after the nation. The advent of China's national Open has also cultivated top-class golfers in China and Asia such as Zhang Lian-wei, Cheng Jun and Liang Wen-chong.

 

Honghua International Golf Club in Beijing may only have been open for two years but, designed by six-time Major Champion Faldo, the 7,203 yard city centre layout is more than ready to challenge the stars of the Asian and European Tours.

The 2006 Volvo China Open moves to the Chinese capital of Beijing for the first time, located in the Chaoyang District of the city, just a pitching wedge away from the Olympic village where the athletes of the world will be housed in just over two years time.

Faldo knows exactly what it takes to create an inspiring, challenging, yet essentially fair golf course, and the Beijing Honghua International Golf Club certainly reflects the determined personality traits and playing hallmarks of the champion golfer.

Talk to Nick Faldo about his passion for golf course design and the two words most likely to punctuate the conversation are “strategic” and “memorability”.

“The courses we design are essentially very strategic in nature,” affirms Faldo, adding, “It is an extremely creative process and yet we always seek to combine originality with an adherence to proven, classical design principles. Incorporating dramatic, visually striking features is also important to us as it creates excitement and a quite outstanding golfing experience which will carry lifelong memories.”

Faldo established his own golf course design company, ‘Faldo Design’, in the early 1990s, right at the time when he was the world’s number one golfer. He has now worked on projects in more than a dozen different countries in five continents and there are award-winning Nick Faldo designed courses in such contrasting places as the United States, China, Germany, Canada, Vietnam, England and Australia, and projects underway in Russia, The Dominican Republic, Ireland and Portugal.

Having recently expanded his international junior golf event, ‘The Faldo Series’ into Asia (establishing an office base in Hong Kong), Faldo obviously has a special affection for China and is very proud of his Beijing layout.

“I am particularly honoured to have the 2006 Volvo China Open played over Beijing Hong Hua International Golf Club, one of the most exciting and satisfying design projects I have undertaken, and I’m sure that the golfers in search of a record winner’s cheque and the open championship of the world’s largest and fastest-growing golf territory will find it a sufficiently worthy test of their mettle.”

One of the tournament favourites will be the popular Zhang, who enjoyed a memorable victory in the Volvo China Open in 2003, prior to the event becoming co-sanctioned between the Asian and European Tours.

 

Zhang ishoping to play his way into contention once again after coming close to a second victory last year before finishing tied seventh in Shenzhen.

 

“I have learnt from that experience and will be determined to hold my game right through the end,” said 40 year old Zhang.

 

“The Volvo China Open is a national event which offers an opportunity for Chinese players to shine. It is an honour for Chinese players to participate in their own national Open which has history and heritage.”

 

Zhang, a five-time winner on the Asian Tour, also paid tribute to Volvo's contribution towards the growth of golf in China. "Since 1995, Volvo has been devoted to golf in China and has shown their support by being the first corporation to sponsor China's national Open. Since then, it has grown this event into an international level where the prize money has also increase.

 

"Being the first company to support professional golf in China, Volvo has showcased golf and has clearly contributed towards the game here," said Zhang.

 

Asia's challenge in the co-sanctioned event with The European Tour will also see 11 of the victorious Asian team members at the Visa Dynasty Cup gathering at Honghua.

 

With the exception of India's Jyoti Randhawa, the players who were in the team that beat Japan will compete in the Volvo China Open and they are Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant, Thongchai Jaidee – who played in his first Masters last week -  Prayad Marksaeng, Thammanoon Srirot and Boonchu Ruangkit, Singapore's Mardan Mamat, Korea's Mo Joong-kyung, Filipino Angelo Que, India's Amandeep Johl, Liang and Zhang.

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Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1SINGH, Jeev MilkhaIND18-10
2FDEZ-CASTAÑO, GonzaloESP18-9
3LYNN, DavidENG18-8
T4CASEY, PaulENG18-7
T4LYLE, JarrodAUS18-7
T4WAKEFIELD, SimonENG18-7
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