Phil Mickelson is excited to be back in Shanghai to defend his HSBC Champions title and further his global ambitions, but he knows he is facing one of the best fields ever gathered in Asia.
Although the injured Tiger Woods will not tee up at the Sheshan International Golf Club for the $5m event starting tomorrow, organisers have lured a dazzling array of golf’s elite headlined by Mickelson.
More than half of the world’s top 20 ranked players have come to China for what promises to be the start of a huge few weeks of golf in Asia, with big-money events in Singapore and Hong Kong to follow.
“It’s very exciting for me to have won this tournament last year and I look forward to trying to defend it,” the world number two told reporters yesterday after flying into Shanghai.
“(But) we have the best golfers in the world here. We have some of the best players in the world playing their best golf... and it will be very difficult to defend my championship.”
Spanish world number three Sergio Garcia and Irish number five Padraig Harrington are expected to be among the top challengers.
Harrington, who won back-to-back Majors this year with the British Open and the US PGA Championship, also said he was impressed by the quality of the field in Shanghai.
“This is a big tournament. They have got the best players in the world assembled. There are very large world ranking points on offer, so there are many reasons to win,” he said.
Newly crowned European Order of Merit champion Robert Karlsson of Sweden, young American Anthony Kim and Columbian Camilo Villegas, ranked sixth, seventh and eighth respectively, are other top 10 players to have come to Shanghai.
Reigning Masters champion Trevor Immelman will also be in the field this week, with 2006 US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy from Australia giving Chinese fans another opportunity to watch a Major winner close-up.
Other big names in Shanghai are South Korea’s KJ Choi, Australia’s Adam Scott and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, while 2007 Asian Order of Merit winner Liang Wenchong will fly China’s flag.
Shanghai brings back great memories for Mickelson, who triumphed last year in spectacular fashion after giving up a five-shot lead on the final day before eventually winning a play-off against English duo Ross Fisher and Lee Westwood.
“Winning in Shanghai was a very big win for me because it was one of my biggest international victories,” the three-time Major winner said ahead of his Asian sojourn that will also take him to Singapore. Mickelson, who had famously preferred the comforts of the US Tour earlier in his career, has also headed off overseas again because he is looking to become recognised as one of the game’s global players.
Winning back-to-back HSBC Champions titles would be a big step for him in this regard, with the event co-sanctioned by the Asian, European, South African and Australasian tours. Meanwhile, a fierce spotlight will shine on the battle between New Zealand’s Mark Brown and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh to win the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.