A field of true global excellence will take China by storm this week to mark the arrival of the newest World Golf Championships event – the WGC-HSBC Champions – at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
Now the fourth WGC event on The European Tour International Schedule, the WGC-HSBC Champions has attracted a compelling list of golfing superstars, headed by World Number One Tiger Woods.
The American is one of seven of the top ten players on the Official World Golf Ranking to make their passage to China from all corners of the globe, while a total of 21 of the top 30 – in addition to 14 of the top 15 in the current Race to Dubai – will compete for the US$7 million prize fund
World Number Nine, Sergio Garcia of Spain, defends the title he won at Sheshan 12 months ago, as the inaugural Race to Dubai enters the final fortnight before the season’s climax takes place with the Dubai World Championship on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates from November 19-22.
Adding glamour and spice to the competition is the welcome appearance of the world’s two leading players, Woods and Phil Mickelson, who are joined by Korea’s Y E Yang, who will receive a warm welcome back to the scene of his triumph in November 2006, less than three months after becoming the first Asian male golfer to win a Major Championship – the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota.
Woods has enjoyed a decade of astonishing dominance in WGC events, claiming 16 individual WGC titles in total. His first triumph came in the WGC – NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Ohio in August 1999, while his most recent success came a mere three months ago at the same venue in the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational.
“I played in the HSBC Champions in 2005 and 2006 and I look forward to returning to Shanghai,” he said. “It is an event that symbolises the amazing progress of golf in Asia and its new WGC status underlines how firmly China has established its place on the global golf calendar.”
One man who knows exactly what it takes to win the WGC-HSBC Champions is Mickelson, who emerged triumphant from a thrilling play-off at Sheshan against Englishmen Ross Fisher and Lee Westwood two years ago.
The left-hander finished in a tie for eighth place in the last HSBC Champions in November 2008 but has already experienced success in the WGC arena this year, overcoming a spell of heat exhaustion and dehydration at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Florida in March, to hold off the challenge of fellow American Nick Watney on the final day to win the WGC – CA Championship.
“After The Open Championship, it is hard to think of a bigger and better tournament held outside America,” he said. “This tournament already had everything in place and deserves to be part of the WGC series. It has always attracted strong fields and so has a great reputation worldwide and I am really looking forward to trying to reclaim my title.”
Yang, who preceded Mickelson as the champion at Sheshan to serve notice of his emerging status as a world class player, is relishing a return to the scene of his biggest success prior to claiming that first Major.
He said: “Winning the tournament in 2007 set the foundation for bigger things to come. It gave me the courage to achieve bigger goals like winning the PGA Championship. There were so many things that happened, but in the bigger picture it definitely changed my career because it gave the strength that I needed and the confidence and belief that I could achieve bigger things.”
Stewart Cink, the 2009 Open Champion and winner of five US PGA Tour events including the 2004 WGC-NEC Invitational, is very much looking forward to his first visit to the Sheshan International Golf Club.
“I am really excited to be going to China for the first time,” said Cink. “Anywhere the best players in the world are gathered together, you don’t want to miss out, and I think it is fantastic for world golf that China will be hosting the WGC-HSBC Champions.”
Garcia captured the title last November, following a play-off with England’s Oliver Wilson, and he commented: “I suppose being defending champion brings its own unique pressure but, actually, I feel more excited than anything else about going back to Shanghai,” he said. “I’ll be the defending champion on a course I really enjoy and it goes without saying I’d love this to be the first tournament in my career that I successfully defend.”
Garcia is also, of course, one of the men who currently occupy 14 of the top 15 places in The Race to Dubai on The European Tour. With only three counting events left to be played before the Dubai World Championship, England’s Lee Westwood continues to lead the way from Germany’s Martin Kaymer, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Ross Fisher of England, who moved up to fourth place after this victory in the Volvo World Match Play in Spain last week.
Another big mover in the ‘Race’ was Fisher’s fellow Englishman, Ian Poulter, who captured the Barclays Singapore Open to move to tenth place overall and will cross Asia from Singapore to China with his game in fine fettle.