ICHEON, Gyeonggi Province ― Some of the world’s top golfer are set to battle again in Korea for the Ballatine’s championship.
The $2.9 million European Tour event will tee off on Thursday at Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province with a total of 156 golfers vying for the trophy.
Since its establishment in 2007, the Ballantine’s Championship has been hosted on Jeju Island. But this year, the organizer has decided to host the event at a more central location to attract more star players and visitors.
Lee Westwood is set to dominate the headlines as the first incumbent world No. 1 ever to play in Korea.
Players taking part in the Ballantine’s Championship pose with the winner’s trophy at Blackstone Golf Club in Seoul on Tuesday. The golfers are (from left) Yang Yong-eun, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Lee Westwood. (AFP-Yonhap News)
“It’s a great field. I was in Jeju two years ago, but I’ve never been in mainland Korea before. I’m so looking forward to playing here,” said Westwood on Tuesday at Blackstone.
The 38-year-old Englishman, who held the No. 1 ranking from Nov. 1 until Feb. 28, has returned to the top spot last week by winning the Indonesian Masters.
“I played well last week. My confidence is high, and I’m looking forward to winning the title on Sunday afternoon.”
Asked whether he feels any pressure to stay in the top spot, he said: “Obviously being the No. 1 involves a lot of responsibility. You have a lot more things to do. And sometimes it becomes very difficult to get time to practice. But I’m so used to do it.”
Also joining the No. 1 are three-time Major winner Ernie Else, PGA Tour’s rising young star Dustin Johnson and Ryder Cup champion Ian Poulter.
Yang Yong-eun, who won the PGA Championship by beating the long-time world No. 1 Tiger Woods to become the first Asian winner of a major title, is looking to win his third European Tour event in his home country.
Yang, better known as Y.E Yang, won the Volvo China Open last year, but did not win another tournament until last week.
Fresh from this year’s Volvo China, in which he failed to defend his title, Yang said he was happy to be home.
“It’s been nearly six months since I played here last. I’ve been dreaming of playing in front of my home fans,” he said.
The 39-year-old Korean admitted that he was a little bit out of form in putting last week, but he is now focusing on regaining his rhythm.
“I couldn’t keep my focus until the last hole, and missed 3-4 putts in Volvo China. But I feel great about this competition and have confidence,” he said.
Yang also added that he was determined to win the Ballantine’s Championship on Sunday.
“Now I come here to play only once or twice a year. I think the best way to give something back to my home fans is winning the championship.” Yang will lead a strong squad that includes rising youngster Noh Seung-yul and three-time Japanese tour winner Kim Kyung-tae.
The Ballantine’s Championship, which was established in 2007, is co-organized by the European Tour, the Korean PGA and the Asian Tour. It was the first European Tour event staged in Korea. The prize in the first year was 2 million euros ($2.6 million), while this year it is 2.2 million euros ($2.9 million), underscoring the event’s status as the biggest golf tournament in Korea.
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org