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China鈥檚 Jewel in the Crown: The WGC-HSBC Champions Returns

 

 

The flagship event of the Asian Golf Tour gets underway in Shenzhen this month, as the world’s best descend on the Middle Kingdom. For Tianjin Plus, Paul Ryding looks at who the leading contenders are for the USD 1.2-million first prize.


The 39th Ryder Cup, at Medinah Country Club in Illinois last month, couldn’t have been any closer. Only once previously had the competition been decided by that slenderest of margins; the ½ point awarded for a draw in match play singles. It was undoubtedly the high-point of most of the competitors’ seasons, their careers for some of them, as Europe eked to a 14½ - 13½ win over the USA, after overturning a four-point deficit on the final day.


The WGC-HSBC Champions, the final World Golf Championships event of the season, will be where many of the combatants come face-to-face for the first time since that incredible three days in Chicago.


The world’s top two players, Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, may be missing the trip, but there’s a distinct Major flavour to the field for this year’s event. Masters Champion, Bubba Watson and Open Champion, Ernie Els, will be amongst the biggest names to tee off in Shenzhen on 1 November for the eighth annual HSBC Champions event.


It will be the first year that the competition has been held outside of its original home at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, though the Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen will be familiar to some of the field. South African Els helped to design one of the club’s 12 courses.


“I am very comfortable in Shenzhen having spent a lot of time there working on my course design,” said the four-time Major winner. “Having finished second in the WGC-HSBC Champions previously, it is definitely a title I would love to add to my C.V.”


Els is not the only player hoping to end the season on a high in South China. American Bubba Watson hopes to build on an impressive season which has seen him rise to number seven in the world rankings.


“Winning my first Major at the Masters in April has made this an amazing year but I haven’t won since so I’d love to end my year with my first World Golf Championship win,” said the 33-year-old. “Asian golf is definitely on the up and I am excited to go there and experience it for myself.”


In addition, defending champion Martin Kaymer, the man who won the crucial point that sealed Europe’s retention of the Ryder Cup in Chicago last month, will return. After a tricky 2011, the China swing of the season provides an opportunity for the German to end the year on a high. A stunning round of 63 on the final day of the 2011 edition of the competition helped him to reel in a five-shot deficit to eventual runner-up Frederik Jacobson in a sensational final round. It was a thrilling finish to last year’s event, and was the last time the former world number one tasted victory on Tour.


Other big names who were part of the Ryder Cup last month and will compete in Shenzhen are 2010 US Open Champion, Graeme McDowell, and 1999 Open Champion, Paul Lawrie. Two-time former winner in Shanghai Phil Mickelson will also compete, as will 2010 winner Francesco Molinari. In addition, the world’s third and fourth ranked players, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood of England respectively, will also compete.


Such has been the popularity of China’s premier event, that it is expected to be added to the PGA Tour full-time starting next season. In the last few years, the HSBC WGC has thrown up some incredible golf, and with the calibre of the field scheduled to play in Shenzhen this month, there’s every chance that we could see another.



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