Europe vs Asia in region's richest tournament


BY LIM TEIK HUAT

KUALA LUMPUR: It is the course that hosted the men's and women's World Cups. It is where Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam proudly strode. Today, the Mines Resort and Golf Club will see the big showdown between Europe and Asia in the US$1.1 million Carlsberg Malaysian Open golf championship. 

Breaking new ground to become Asia's richest national tournament, the 42nd edition of the Malaysian Open this year promises to be an open affair. 

There is no shortage of likely winners from the formidable cast, comprising 18 winners from the European tour and a host of Asian PGA's top names. 

World number five Retief Goosen from South Africa, number eight Irish star Padraig Harrington and defending champion Alastair Forsyth are among the big guns aiming to scoop the winner's purse of US$183,330. 

Goosen and Harrington have finished as the top-two players on the European Tour for the last two years.  

GETTING SET: Ryder Cupper and 1997 Malaysian Open champion Lee Westwood (right) gets some practice at the driving range along with the other golfers at the Mines Resort and Golf Club Wednesday. The Malaysian Open, which will see an intense contest between European and Asian stars, tees of today. - STARpic by S.S. Kanesan

Harrington, ended last year in a blaze of glory by claiming a title in each month, including a victory over Tiger Woods, after playing a starring role in Europe's Ryder Cup triumph in September. And he will be wanting to continue from where he left off. 

“I’m looking forward to playing the new season. At the moment, I’m a little erratic and a little rusty but looking forward to it,” the affable Irishman said. 

“This is one of the most difficult courses I have played in. The greens are similar to the ones at Saujana (last year's venue). However, the greens are much narrower. There are enough dog-legs and water hazards around the course. If you are not careful, you will get trapped,” said Harrington. 

Also in the elite field are 1997 Malaysian Open champion Lee Westwood, European Ryder Cup star Paul McGinley, last year's runner-up Stephen Leaney and former US Masters winner Ian Woosnam. 

Heading the Asian assault will be China's Zhang Lian-wei, reigning number one Jyoti Randhawa, who became the first Indian to win the Asian PGA Tour Order of Merit last season, Thai star Thongchai Jaidee and South Korean teenager Kevin Na, who won the Volvo Masters title last December. 

Lian-wei, China's number one, emphasised the rise of Asian golf last month when he stunned world number two Ernie Els at the Singapore Masters last month. 

The South African flew into Singapore on a hot streak following three straight victories from last December but a determined Lian-wei pipped the player known as “Big Easy” at the post with a birdie on the final hole. 

But if anything, the sweltering weather and the scenic but challenging conditions of the course are the ones that will separate the pretenders from the challengers. 

The pin placements and good putting are expected to be the factors which could determine who masters the par-71course. 

Goosen predicts that it is going to be the survival of the fittest over the competition for the next four days. 

“This course looks nice and pleasant to play on. But it's not a course for pushovers,” said the 2001 World Cup winner after finishing a practise round yesterday. 

“I just hope to hit the ball nicely and get a good putt, just let it roll and focus on what's next,” said Goosen on his chances. 

McGinley, who holed the winning putt to give Europe their famous Ryder Cup win over the Americans last year, said heat and humidity will pose the stiffest test for the golfers. 

He partnered Harrington to a third place finish in the 1999 World Cup held here and is looking to a repeat performance here. 

“I have a good idea of the course and I am looking forward to playing here again.” 

Besides the prize money, the organisers have thrown in an extra challenge as well.  

They are offering a 24-carat solid gold trophy worth RM44,000 (US$11,570) to the first player who breaks Tiger Woods' course record of 63 set in 1999. 

In addition, the club's founder and managing director Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew will give RM1 million (US$263,157) to the first player who betters the current record by five shots at the spectacular par-71 Robert Trent Jones Jr-designed layout. 

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