Wednesday, 14 April 2010
A determined Liang Wenchong is targeting a third OneAsia title in his homeland as he seeks this week to become only the third Chinese winner of the Volvo China Open following Cheng Jun in 1997 and Zhang Lianwei in 2003.
Liang and Zhang spearhead a 32-strong challenge from China in the US$2.5 million event, which is co-sanctioned by OneAsia and the European Tour, held for the first time at the Suzhou Jinji Lake International Golf Club.
The 31-year-old Liang, who continued his putting and chipping practice in pouring rain on Wednesday, is in a strong vein of form following wins in last October’s Midea China Classic and this month’s Luxehills Chengdu Open.
“Winning in Chengdu certainly hasn’t hurt my confidence. My swing is improving, although I’m still trying to get my short game to where it used to be,” said Liang, whose wins include the 2008 Hero Honda Indian Open and the 2007 Singapore Masters.
“The Volvo China Open is the most important tournament to me. It's more important than all the Majors I’ve played. Your country's national open is the most important event to a player, so I’ll try my best.”
Yang Yong-eun, Asia’s first Major winner and joint eighth at the Masters last week, heads a 15-strong Korean contingent at Jinji Lake.
Yang will play with defending champion Scott Strange of Australia and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in the first two rounds, as he returns to the country where he beat Tiger Woods to win the 2006 HSBC Champions in nearby Shanghai.
“I’m in good form and was happy to finish top 10 at the Masters. Every player goes into a tournament expecting to win, but my primary aim is to make the top 10, then I’ll go for a win if I’m in contention on Sunday,” said Yang, who also won the Honda Classic on last year’s PGA Tour.
“I travelled for about 30 hours from Augusta to get here, so I’m a little tired, but I had a nice dinner with a few other Korean players and am feeling good about being here and my chances this week.”
Yang played up the chances of young compatriots Noh Seung-yul, who won last month’s Malaysian Open, and Bae Sang-moon, winner of last year’s Kolon-Hana Bank Korea Open on OneAsia.
“Bae and Noh are definitely two of Korea’s rising stars. They both hit the ball really long and straight, and have already had some big wins in their career,” Yang said. “They could definitely contend for Majors in the future if they can progress to compete on the PGA Tour or European Tour.”
Stenson, who won last year’s Players Championship on the PGA Tour, is the highest-ranked player in the field, but expects a strong challenge from the Asian contingent at Jinji Lake.
“It’s about my 10th time in China and it’s good to be back, as I’ve had some great success here and I enjoy playing in China,“ said Stenson, who won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in 2008.
“We can expect a strong challenge from Asia this week, especially with the likes of Yang Yong-eun, Thongchai Jaidee and Liang Wenchong. Noh Seung-yul won the Malaysian Open last month, which didn’t surprise me as I’ve been really impressed by him.”
Strange, the reigning OneAsia Order of Merit winner, heads a line-up of 23 players from Australia as he attempts to become the first person to successfully defend the Volvo China Open.
“It’s always nice to defend a title. It’s a shame it’s not the same course as last year, but Jinji Lake is a fantastic club and will be a good challenge this week,” said Strange, who finished joint seventh at Luxehills earlier this month.
“My form is okay considering I’m still in the early part of my season and I haven’t played much, and it would be nice to put my name on the trophy a second time.”
Thongchai Jaidee, the three-time Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, is grouped with Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin. Thongchai spearheads the Thai challenge, which also includes Thaworn Wiratchant and Prayad Marksaeng, who also boast a host of titles across Asia.
Chapchai Nirat, a three-time Asian Tour winner, will look to build on his eighth-place finish at last year’s Volvo China Open, while 20-year-old Kiradech Aphibarnrat, third in last month’s Malaysian Open, rounds out the formidable quintet.
Indians Jyoti Randhawa, Shiv Kapur, S.S.P. Chowrasia and Gaganjeet Bhullar are all hoping to repeat the Volvo China Open success of compatriot Jeev Milkha Singh in 2006.
In-form Japanese Tetsuji Hiratsuka, Singapore’s Mardan Mamat and a Chinese Taipei trio are also among the Asian challengers. Hiratsuka, a five-time winner on the Japan Tour, is in red-hot form after winning last week’s Myanmar Open by 10 strokes.