As Zach Johnson gets used to the latest addition to his wardrobe in the shape of a Green Jacket, focus turns to the quest for a Gold Jacket, presented to the winner of this week’s Volvo China Open, with Stephen Dodd hoping to get his hands on the right sized garment this time around.
Dodd’s prize for winning his maiden European Tour title is hanging proudly in the closet at home in Barry in South Wales but on his return to Shanghai Silport Golf Club for the first time since that memorable win at the start of the 2005 season, Dodd admitted it never actually fitted him, being too tight around the collar.
“The family have obviously seen it but I haven’t worn it as it doesn’t fit me,” said the Welshman. “It is too tight around the neck. I will try and get a bigger one this week.”
Dodd’s three-shot victory proved the catalyst for a sensational upturn in fortunes as he quickly added the 2005 Irish Open to his CV. At the end of the season he partnered Bradley Dredge to victory in the World Golf Championships – Algarve World Cup in Portugal and then won his third individual title with victory in the Smurfit Kappa European Open at The K Club last summer.
“That first win was a good springboard for success,” he said “The form has not been where I want it the last six or eight months but form comes and goes. It was nice to follow that win in the Volvo China Open with another in the Irish Open quite quickly afterwards, just so you know it is not a one off. You have done it once and to do it again shows it is not a fluke. It is nice to know you can compete out here how you want to.”
Dodd is now hoping the return to Shanghai Silport will reignite his form after a quiet start to the 2007 campaign.
“It is always nice to come back to venues where you have had success,” he said. “It is nice to be back and the weather is better,” referring to the bitterly cold conditions of November 2004. “I remember one day, the Friday, when I had an early start and it was particularly cold. But I guess I am used to that growing up in Wales. That tended to suit the Europeans rather than the Asians as they are not used to that sort of weather.
“I have noticed when I have had my success the weather has not been conducive to good golf and I tend to have my best results in poor weather. I would be happy with poor weather but I don’t think we are going to get it.”
In fact, conditions are looking ideal with hazy sunshine forecast for the first round and the course in stunning condition.
“The greens are perfect, the best we have played all season without a doubt, and the whole course is great
“The course is slightly different with the new nine, so I don’t know that half as well as I do the other course. It will be an interesting week. You have to drive it straight and the greens are just perfect. It is a good combination of having to drive it straight and you are going to have to putt well. The greens are simply fantastic. They are nice and firm as well which is good as it means you can control the bounce on them. When they are a bit soft they can spin too much but there is none of that on these.”
Zhang Lian-wei, for so long China’s standard bearer, is another former winner in the field, having won in 2003 before the event became tri-sanctioned by The European Tour, Asian Tour and China Golf Association.
Zhang has undergone a significant swing change over the last year to develop a higher ball flight and has also opted to stick to one putter for the last month after jumping from one to another as often a four times a week.
“I was fearful to change my swing but in order to extend my career and improve my chances to win, I decided to go with it,” he said. “The sport is a lot more competitive now for the time I won here but I believe that I still have the chance of a second win.”
Compatriot Liang Wen-chong has now taken over the mantle of China’s Number One and last month became the second Chinese golfer to win on The European Tour when he captured the Clariden Leu Singapore Masters title. Liang now has his sights set following that maiden title with victory in his national Open.
“It was a surprise to win in Singapore,” admitted Laing. “I had some near missed on the Asian Tour and in Japan but this time I finally won it. It has opened the window of opportunity for me to play on The European Tour. My goal this year is now to get into the top 50 in the World Ranking and be able to play in the Majors.”
Two notable challengers were forced to pull out of the Pro-Am on the eve of the tournament with both Simon Dyson, winner of the Volvo China Open in 2000, and Anton Haig, winner of last month’s Johnnie Walker Classic, succumbing to sickness but both hope to be fit for the first round.