Mickelson heads all-star cast at ‘Asia’s major’

Mickelson heads all-star cast at ‘Asia’s major’

SHANGHAI - Agence France-Presse
Mickelson heads all-star cast at ‘Asia’s major’

Phil Mickelson will tee off today alongside Rose and Keegan Bradley in one of the signature groups of World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shangai. AFP Photo

World number three Phil Mickelson leads a star-studded field battling for the riches on offer at the $8.5 million World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, which begins today in Shanghai.

The field in “Asia’s major” reads like a who’s who of golf with 40 of the top 50 in the world making the journey to the sprawling Chinese city for the event co-sanctioned by the US PGA, European and Asian Tours.

On the fairways at Sheshan Golf Club with British Open champion Mickelson, who won this event in 2007 and 2009, will be current major champions Justin Rose (US Open) and Jason Dufner (US PGA).
The most notable absentees are world number one Tiger Woods, who has skipped the event despite playing an exhibition in China on Oct. 28 against Rory McIlroy, and Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, who is second in the rankings.

Woods once described the 7,266-yard Sheshan layout, opened in 2004, as “the crowning jewel of all of Asian golf”, which makes his absence all the more surprising. Nevertheless, the outstanding field boasts 19 majors, 12 World Golf Championships, 244 European Tour victories, 244 US PGA Tour victories and four players who have been ranked number one in the world -- Mickelson, McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

The USA have the biggest contingent in Shanghai with 24 players. England have the next largest representation with 10. The English charge is led by defending champion Ian Poulter -- his 2012 win came at Mission Hills, Shenzhen -- Rose, Westwood and Donald. Poulter, who last week finished tied 15th at the BMW Masters, also in Shanghai, knows he is in for a tough defence.

“It is going to be a tall order to defend my title this year against such a strong field. Justin, Phil and Jason won the three most recent majors and are obviously the in-form guys at the moment,” he said at a promotional event Oct. 29.

Mickelson will tee off today alongside Rose and Keegan Bradley in one of the signature groups.

Double-winner Mickelson has a better record than anyone in the event. “It is certainly one of my favourite World Golf Championships events,” he said. “I’ve won twice at Sheshan... so it is a course I feel excited to return to.” Mickelson’s three-ball will be preceded by world number six McIlroy playing with Donald and Dufner.

Second in Korea

McIlroy is continuing on his Asian quest to regain his form with confidence boosted by a one-shot victory over Woods at Mission Hills, Hainan, on Monday.

He has also played the Korea Open, finishing second, and the BMW Masters in the past fortnight. McIlroy flew straight back to Shanghai on Monday night and looked refreshed despite his whirlwind schedule.

So was he tired? “No, not at all,” he told AFP Tuesday. “It was a lot of fun yesterday.”

The FedEx Cup champions of 2012 and 2013, Brandt Snedeker and Henrik Stenson respectively, are joined by Poulter on Thursday at the tee-off. There are four other past champions in the field -- David Howell (2005), Sergio Garcia (2008), Francesco Molinari (2010) and Martin Kaymer (2011).

The 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson had his first taste of Sheshan on Tuesday and liked what he saw. “I didn’t know what to expect coming here,” said the US player. “But it is really good. It should really suit me and the greens are running pretty fast.”

Playing for the first time in China is 20-year-old American sensation Jordan Spieth, Rookie of the Year on the PGA Tour.

The WGC-HSBC Champions is unique in straddling two different tour years. It is the second of the 2013 European Tour’s “Final Series” of four events, which conclude with the Race to Dubai, but for the first time also counts towards the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings for 2014.

The Race to Dubai, the European money list, is led by the Swede Stenson, who says his wrist is “100 percent” after injury as he plots a strong end to his season.