Graeme McDowell will face an intoxicating challenge in his quest to secure a Ballantine’s Championship double this week as many of the world’s best players head to the Pinx Golf Club on the beautiful Korean Island of Jeju.
Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood – all of whom are currently among the top 16 in the Official World Golf Ranking – will be the headline names trying to knock the defending champion from his perch, and they are joined by a deeply talented field that includes the likes of American Fred Couples and the Asian trio of Thongchai Jaidee, Prayad Marksaeng and Liang Wen-chong.
McDowell is relishing the chance to defend the title he won so memorably last season when he defeated India’s Jeev Milkha Singh at the third hole of a sudden death play-off with one of the best shots of his career, a sublime seven iron from 179 yards to within a foot of the pin on the 18th to set up the title-clinching birdie.
“Defending a tournament is always pretty special. I haven’t had the chance to do it too often and I’m looking forward to going back to the golf course,” said McDowell. It’s an even better field this year and the weather should be even nicer as well, given that this year’s tournament is a little later in the season, so the golf course should be fabulous.”
Paul McGinley is another man returning to the €2.1 million Ballantine’s Championship and the Irishman is looking to improve upon his third place finish of last year, providing McDowell does not repeat his and Singh’s incredible 24 under par aggregate score of the inaugural Championship in 2008.
“My memory of last year is really that Graeme and Jeev ran away with the tournament,” said McGinley. “They turned it into a two-man shootout and I was playing a different tournament, which I managed to win!
“It’s a great golf course. I think the conditions will be warmer [this year’s tournament is six weeks later in the calendar] but there will be more rough on the golf course and it will be a tough test if the wind blows strongly. It’s a well designed course, and there is an element that you have to think your way round there.
“We have a very strong field this year and you’ll have to play well to win. Everything about the tournament was good last year: great sponsor, great hotel and great course. I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Els, Stenson and Westwood, meanwhile, are playing in the Ballantine’s Championship for the first time – and the trio are relishing the chance to compete over the 7,361 yard, par 72 layout at picturesque Pinx – the first Korean club to be named among the World’s 100 Best Courses by Golf Digest in the US and Golf World in the UK in 2005.
“I’ve enjoyed my previous visits to Korea and I’m delighted to be returning to take part in the Ballantine’s Championship for the first time,” said Els, winner of the US Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open Championship in 2002.
“Korea is at the forefront of the Asian golf boom and the fans there are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about the game, so I’m really looking forward to playing at Pinx Golf Club.
“I know the inaugural Ballantine’s Championship was an outstanding success and I’m excited to be involved in what promises to be another fantastic tournament.”