The Shanghai-based HSBC Champions tournament was named the fourth World Golf Championship (WGC) on Tuesday, upgrading it to elite status on the international calendar and making it the most important event not yet won by Tiger Woods.
"This is a pretty historic moment for the game of golf," said IMG Vice-President Mark Steinberg at a press conference in Shanghai. "It puts the (word) 'world' into the term World Golf Championship.
As it enters its fifth year, the Nov 5-8 HSBC Champions now ranks alongside the Accenture Match Play Championship, CA Championship and Bridgestone Invitational as a top-10 event.
The four WGCs are only second to the years' four majors in terms of scale and prestige, with the Players Championship also in the mix. Having World No 1 Woods back after a two-year layoff will, however, help give Shanghai a leg-up.
"Tiger Woods has confirmed that he will be here in November," said Giles Morgan of title sponsor HSBC. "He confirmed that a month or so ago, and we're delighted that he will be back at Sheshan (International) Golf Club."
Woods finished runner-up at the first two editions but skipped the past two for reconstructive surgery on a damaged knee and to be with his young family. This fall he will take on defending champion Sergio Garcia of Spain, previous winner Phil Mickelson and a bevy of stars as the event becomes the only WGC to be played outside the US.
"Many of (the world's players) believe that it is very important for us to stage this level of competition here in China," said David Pillsbury, president of PGA Tour Championship Management.
With a raised purse of US$7 million, the WGC-HSBC Masters is also the most lucrative golf event in Asia. Its only local rival is the World Cup of Golf in Shenzhen, southern China.
Officials were cagey about whether the former will later migrate to Shenzhen's Mission Hills Golf Club to cash in on hobbyists streaming in from over the Hong Kong border. Yet once next year's Shanghai World Expo passes, it remains a distinct possibility.
"Now, and for the next few years, we will continue to be in the Shanghai area, but there is flexibility (to move)," admitted Morgan.
Zhang Lianwei, the first Chinese golfer to play the US Masters - in 2004 - was bursting with pride.
"As a golfer, it's a dream for me that golf has made such progress (here) in only the last 25 years," he said. "We now have a WGC event, and in fact, it's not a dream."
Players and international tour officials also sent out a chorus of approval. "I think (it's) an excellent decision," said three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland in a pre-recorded statement.
George O'Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, said the upgrade would not have happened without the progressive approach of the China Golf Association and HSBC.
(China Daily April 29, 2009)