The European Tour heads to China for the first time this year as Soomin Lee defends his Shenzhen International title at Genzon Golf Club.
Last year, Lee broke onto the European Tour scene with an impressive performance, overcoming difficult conditions all week to finish two shots clear of Joost Luiten of the Netherlands and South Africa’s Brandon Stone.
It would be the first of four successive victories by Asian players on the European Tour, with Li Haotong winning the following week’s Volvo China Open before Jeunghun Wang claimed back-to-back triumphs at the Trophée Hassan II and AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.
Lee’s maiden European Tour title came courtesy of a supreme back-nine performance as he bounced back from a three over front nine to birdie the tenth, 13th and 16th before an eagle at the penultimate hole effectively sealed the deal.
The Seoul player stepped onto the 18th hole three shots clear and even had the luxury of dropping a shot at the last before lifting the trophy, a final round 71 contributing to a 16 under total.
This will be just the third edition of the Shenzhen International, an event which has grown from the host city’s ambitious and rapid rise as a major centre of commerce and industry in the world’s most populous nation.
Shenzhen, formerly a small fishing port town and located close to Hong Kong, has grown significantly in the past two decades to become a financial hub – which explains the ‘Wall Street bull’ style tournament logo.
The inaugural edition provided a thrilling finale as Li and Kiradech Aphibarnrat locked horns in a play-off, with the former hoping to become the first Chinese player to win a European Tour event on home soil.
As the crowd watched expectantly, both parred the first extra hole but as they played the 18th once again, Aphibarnrat was left with a birdie putt to win after Li made par and the Thai duly obliged to earn his second of three European Tour titles.
Two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson returns to Shenzhen for the third successive time after claiming a top ten in last year’s event, and he is joined by a strong European Tour field for the first of two events on Chinese soil.
Lee is joined by fellow former champion Aphibarnrat, who is making his first appearance in over a month having last played the Hero Indian Open in March.
Tommy Fleetwood, who was overtaken at the top of The Race to Dubai by Sergio Garcia following a famous victory at Augusta National two weeks ago, has good form at Genzon Golf Club having finished third in 2015 and inside the top 20 last year.
His English compatriot Ross Fisher returns to regular European Tour duty having played his first Masters Tournament in five years a fortnight ago, while other former Ryder Cup players in the field include Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts and Victor Dubuisson of France.
The long A Course at Genzon Golf Club measures just under 7,200 yards and with a mixture of undulated fairways and greens, tree-lined fairways, exposed areas and no shortage of hazards - including the intimidating Dragon Lake - it’s no walk in the park.
Opened in 1994 and re-modelled in 2007 by Neil Haworth, it has hosted the Volvo China Open in the past, making it the first Chinese course to host two different European Tour events.
The long par four fifth hole was the most difficult on the A Course last year, with a scoring average of 4.41 while the par five ninth was the easiest with a scoring average of 4.64.
DID YOU KNOW?
· In 2015 the Shenzhen International became the eighth different official European Tour event to be staged on Chinese soil.
· Having hosted the 2014 Volvo China Open, won by Alexander Levy, Genzon Golf Club became the first Chinese course to have staged two different official European Tour events when Kiradech Aphibarnrat took the 2015 Shenzhen International at this venue.
· The Shenzhen International is one of three events to be staged on the Chinese mainland during the 2017 season. The other two are the Volvo China Open and WGC-HSBC Champions.
· Soomin Lee won the 2016 Shenzhen International after been given a sponsors invitation. The South Korean was one of four invitees to win on the European Tour during the 2016 season. The players were: Rickie Fowler (Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship), Soomin Lee (Shenzhen International), Jeunghun Wang (Trophée Hassan II) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (Nordea Masters).
· Bubba Watson will be making his third consecutive appearance in the Shenzhen International. He was tied 29th in 2015 and tied eighth last year. Overall this event will be his eighth European Tour appearance in China. He has appeared in the WGC-HSBC Champions five times. His record is 33rd (2012), 8T (2013), 1st (2014), 35T (2015) and 54T (2016).· Kiradech Aphibarnrat will be looking for his fourth European Tour victory. Should he win he would become the fourth Asian player to win four or more European Tour titles, following Thongchai Jaidee (seven), Jeev Milkha Singh (four) and S.S.P. Chawrasia (four).