Singapore Open to prove its ‘Asia’s major’ status

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Open will aim to show why it considers itself as ‘Asia’s major” in an increasingly crowded market as it celebrates its 50th anniversary this week.

A high-quality if not eye-popping complement of stars will sweat it out for the US$6mil purse on Sentosa, a residential-cum-resort island so exclusive that even Singapore residents need to pay to enter.

Major-winners Phil Mickelson, Graeme McDowell, Y.E. Yang and Padraig Harrington lead the field although none of the current world top 10 have travelled to the tiny Southeast Asian state.

Rising Briton Tom Lewis and Colombia’s Camilo Villegas bring youthful flair alongside the guile of veterans Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn, and a coterie of Asian talent.

The Singapore Open first teed off in 1961 but the 2011 version is played against a backdrop of rapidly rising incomes in Asia and an accompanying glut of big-money golf tournaments.

It currently ranks as Asia’s fourth-richest golf event and takes place just a week after Shanghai’s HSBC Champions, which also bills itself as the region’s answer to the sport’s four majors.

Last month, US Open champion Rory McIlroy walked away with a cool US$2mil after winning the inaugural, and unsanctioned, Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters, which attracted a stellar field – and anger from the established tours.

And Singapore will compete for attention this week with the Australian Open, which features 14-time major-winner Tiger Woods and four of the world’s top 10, including reigning Singapore champion Adam Scott.

“There is a lot of competitive golf in Asia,” said Harrington. “You have the Asian Tour which is strong. You have OneAsia which has come along. You have the European Tour coming in here and a little bit of the PGA Tour.”

The three-time major-winner is aiming to use Singapore and events in Johor and Hong Kong as his springboard to the European season-ending Dubai World Championship, as well as next year’s Ryder Cup.

And Harrington believes he is just a “a few putts” away from his first win in 13 months after dealing with troublesome neck and shoulder injury problems under his new coach, Pete Cowan.

“I wouldn’t be going for a top-three finish.

“I would be going for a win. I used to get a lot of grief for those third and second-place finishes,” he said.

“What would it take? It would take a few putts. And if you hole a few birdie putts then it gives you confidence playing the new holes. If you miss one you feel a bit frustrated.”

Mickelson will look for a quick return to the world’s top 10 after he dropped to 11 late last month, ending a seven-year stint, while McDowell is searching for his first win of the European Tour season.

Frank Phillips was the first Singapore champion in 1961 and Scott sealed his third victory in the event last year.

This week marks its 48th edition after the tournament was not held in 2002, 2003 or 2004. — AFP

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