The Ballantine’s Championship toasts its fifth anniversary this week with a strong blend of international stars hoping to show their ‘true character’ at Blackstone Golf Club near Seoul.
Open Champion Darren Clarke and World Number 12 Adam Scott join last year’s runner-up Miguel Angel Jiménez and Ryder Cup stars Paul Casey and Ian Poulter in the field, which also contains the impressive home challenge led by Korean trio KT Kim, Bae Sang-moon and YE Yang, the first Asian player to win a Major Championship.
Jiménez will be looking to go one better than last year when he finished one stroke behind winner Lee Westwood, with the Spaniard player searching for his 19th European Tour title.
He will face some stern competition from Clarke and Poulter, two players who have consistently exhibited the ‘true character’ trait which is emblematic of the Ballantine’s brand.
Poulter returns to Blackstone Golf Club following a hugely encouraging final round performance in last week’s Volvo China Open, when he improved on a frustrating first three days with an impressive closing six under par 66.
That, according to the 36 year old Englishman, was the perfect preparation for this week’s €2,205,000 event, the second staging of the tournament at the exclusive Blackstone resort.
“I am looking forward to getting out there after the final round in China,” said Poulter, who recorded a career-best seventh place finish at the Masters Tournament at the start of the month.
“The first three days in China were frustrating because I was hitting the ball well, but then to go out on Sunday and make a load of birdies and leave a few out there as well tells me I could have gone very low.
“That’s good for the confidence heading to the Ballantine’s Championship, and I feel that I can go there and put on a show. I was disappointed to miss the cut last year because it is a golf course that should suit me and is one that really fits my eye.
“There are a lot of elevation changes, and there are a number of tee shots that you need to be really aggressive on, and I like that. I am driving the ball very well at the moment, and when I do that on any golf course I am going to give myself chances.
“We have some great players in the field this week and if I can keep that standard of play that I had last Sunday then I am pretty hopeful that I can come out on top.”
Kim, Bae and Yang, who are all inside the top 60 on the Official World Golf Ranking, carry the Korean hopes, with World Number 32 Sang-moon having shown some fine form so far this year, including losing to Luke Donald in a play-off in the Transitions Championship on the US PGA Tour.
Australian Scott, winner of last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, is the highest ranked player in the 156-man field, and he will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Marcus Fraser, who won the Ballantine’s Championship in 2010, and who will be buoyed by a strong performance in China last week, where he finished in a tie for sixth place behind the South African Branden Grace.
“I can’t wait to get back to Korea,” he said. “The Blackstone Golf Club is a very impressive place, and I played well last year and defended my title well.
“The club really suits the Ballantine’s brand – it is very classy and just the perfect place for tournament like the Ballantine’s Championship. They are as good a sponsor as we have in Tour. I went to the gala dinner last year as defending champion and it was one of the most impressive events I have ever been to.
“The golf course is great and suits me off the tee – hopefully I can make enough putts and give myself a chance.
“I played really well in China all week and the game feels like it is really coming together. I think over the past six or seven months I have been playing some of the best golf of my career so I am hoping to continue on that path.
“Winning the Ballantine’s Championship really kicked my career off again. I went there having not one in six years or so it was a massive confidence boost. It goes without saying I’d love to win it again.”