Attention shifts from Beijing to Shanghai this week, and the players will be hoping for more clement weather as they move south. The final day of the Volvo China Open last Sunday was marred by cold, rain and wind, but for all that the competition was hot enough.
This week BMW step up to the sponsor's plate, and they have put together a star-studded field for the BMW Asian Open at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club, competing for a top prize of over US$360,000.
Four major winners head the list. Former Open Champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland, who played at last week's tournament, is joined by 2005 US Open winner Michael Campbell, and South Africa's Retief Goosen, double winner of the same trophy in 2001 and 2004. The quartet is completed by the great Greg Norman, winner of two Open Championships and multiple winner of both the European and the PGA Orders of Merit, who has a total of 84 titles to his name.
Now part of the Seniors Tour, Norman is unquestionably the most charismatic character in the line-up. Back and knee injuries have limited his Senior appearances, although he has a third place in the Senior British Open to his name, and he also devotes increasing attention to his expanding business empire.
Other well-known figures from the European tour joining the field this week include Henrik Stenson, Darren Clarke, and Miguel-Angel Jimenez.
Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin put together a disappointing performance last week, posting a final day 84 to finish tied for 65th from 69 starters, but he is the reigning champion and will not want to surrender his title without a fight.
Although the big names will clearly attract a lot of attention, some of last week's star performers will also come under the spotlight.
Ireland will be watching to see how Volvo China Open winner Damien McGrane copes with his new-found status. Earlier this year McGrane found himself partnered with Tiger Woods in the Dubai Desert Classic, prompting a fellow reporter to describe the pairing in the following terms:
"You could scrape the bottom of the European Tour barrel and struggle to find a player lower on the food chain than Ireland's Damien McGrane…"
This uncomplimentary depiction invited a suitable response, and McGrane's performance last week duly provided it. He is no longer one of the 'nearly' men, and it remains to be seen how he will cope with the raised level of expectation in a much tougher field and in quite different conditions. It would be understandable if he suffers some kind of a reaction – at the top level golf is a fiendishly difficult game to play well every week – but he will be hoping to maintain his performance level.
Also attracting attention will be the three men who tied for second last week. England's Oliver Wilson now has six career 2nd places to his name, and it can only be a matter of time until he goes one better. As he remarked last week: "Well, it's not very often you have the luxury of shooting 79 in a final round and finishing second…"
Last year's Challenge Tour winner Michael Lorenzo-Vera of France will also be hoping to maintain his form. Only 23, Lorenzo-Vera played some of the best golf of the tournament last week, and would surely have finished closer to McGrane in more favorable conditions. He is another who will certainly win tournaments in the course of his career.
Asian Tour specialist Simon Griffiths, another Englishman, will have been pleased to bank a cheque for over $150,000 – a good deal more than he earned in the whole of 2007.
The local challenge will be headed by Liang Wen-Chong, winner of last year's Asian Order of Merit, an achievement that won him a place in this year's Masters. He is also looking forward to being the first Chinese player to compete in The Open Championship later this year - the final day of the Volvo China Open will have helped to acclimatize for that challenge.
Liang was the top Chinese finisher last week, and also the joint top Asian in the competition, tying for 8th alongside Seung-Yul Noh of Korea. Well under six foot, and weighing in at only just over 11 stone, Liang is a slight man by the standards of modern golf, and his place at the top of the table can be explained by his putting – he nears the top of the rankings in both Putts per GIR and Putts per Round.
The other Chinese who made the cut last week are all in the frame again for the BMW Asian Open. They are: Li Chao, who featured prominently after the first round only one stroke behind the leader and finished 28th, Wu Kang-Chun, Wu Wei-Huang, and the amateur Hu Mu.
Other notables from the upper rankings of the Asian Tour include the Thais Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee, and three Indians who currently feature 2nd 3rd and 5th on this year's ranking: Jeev Mikha Singh, SSP Chowrasia, and Jyoti Randhawa.
Kiwi Mark Brown, who tops the rankings this year, will also be there. Mark performed well last week, tying for 5th alongside Markus Brier and Graeme McDowell. Australia's Adam Groom is also in the field, but if he is wise he will not be driving the Volvo he won with last week's hole-in-one on the 3rd at the China Open.
(David Ferguson for China.org.cn April 24, 2008)