Players from 28 nations, including the two most recent champions on The European Tour and the Japan Tour, have assembled at the largest golf resort in the world this week for the inaugural Omega Mission Hills World Cup at Mission Hills Golf Club in China.
A total of 18 exempt nations, along with a further ten countries who emerged through qualifiers in Asia and Latin America, have ensured that a new era for the team element of the sport begins on a high note over the spectacular José Maria Olazábal course at the prestigious Mission Hills complex.
Boasting a staggering 216 holes of golf designed by many of the great names in the game of golf, Mission Hills begins a 12-year agreement to host the World Cup with Omega as title sponsor.
The tournament slogan – ‘For The Honour’ – is most apposite as the 56 players representing the 28 countries compete in two sessions of fourballs (Thursday and Saturday) and two sessions of foursomes (Friday and Sunday).
Germany, who defend the title they won in Barbados last December, are represented by the 2007 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, Martin Kaymer, and four-time European Tour winner, Alex Cejka. However, there is a subtle difference this time, in that the original World Cup Trophy, known previously as the Canada Cup, will be the prize for the victors along with a cheque for $1,600,000 per team.
Two-time US Open Champion Retief Goosen of South Africa and Mike Weir of Canada, the former Masters winner at Augusta National, have Major titles against their names. Goosen and his partner, Trevor Immelman, have both tasted World Cup success in the past. The former was part of South Africa’s victorious team in Japan in 2001 while the latter savoured success at Kiawah Island four years ago.
Goosen and Zhang Lian-wei of host country China are both making a sentimental return to Mission Hills, 12 years after representing their respective countries in the 1995 World Cup over the original Jack Nicklaus-designed course. South Africa and China finished eighth and 27th respectively that year and will be determined to secure a higher placing this time around.
China are represented at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup by the older generation in Zhang – the first Chinese golfer to win on The European Tour – and the younger generation in Liang Wen-chong, the most recent player from China to win on The European Tour earlier this season in Singapore.
Meanwhile Miguel Angel Jiménez and Ian Poulter reach mainland China in fine fettle, having just claimed the latest titles in their illustrious careers. The Spaniard won a dramatic finish for the UBS Hong Kong Open last weekend and this week he partners José Manuel Lara, winner of the same title 12 months ago.
Lara was a late replacement for course designer Olazábal, who was forced to admit defeat in his latest battle with injury and so misses the opportunity to seek World Cup glory with his good friend over the course bearing his unique stamp.
“I am very happy to be playing with Miguel at Mission Hills. He has been a great help and friend to me, and I very much look forward to representing Spain and playing in this big tournament for my country” said Lara.
Jiménez and Olazábal had previously teamed up in the World Cup in 2000 at Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they finished seventh behind the United States, while Jiménez also came close to winning the title in 2004 in partnership with Sergio Garcia, finishing runners-up to England at Real Club de Golf de Sevilla, coincidentally another Olazábal-designed course.
“We nearly won in 2004 in Sevilla with Sergio where we came second,” recalled Jiménez. “We played very well that week but not quite well enough to lift the trophy which would have been great in front of the home crowds, but it wasn’t meant to be. But this year we will be trying our hardest again. I enjoy playing in China and have won in Shanghai and now twice in Hong Kong, so why not a win for Spain?”
Meanwhile Poulter arrived in China in buoyant mood following his victory in the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan and the Ryder Cup player links up for the first time in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup with Justin Rose.
Like Poulter, Rose tees off at Mission Hills on the back of a tremendous victory – in his case the Volvo Masters , which put the seal on a magnificent season culminating in his elevation to European Number One at Valderrama.
“It’s a great opportunity to play with Justin and it would certainly be nice to win the World Cup,” said Poulter. “Justin has come close and the England side has been strong for a number of years. It will be an exciting week and to pair up with Justin in what could, hopefully, be a pairing next September at The Ryder Cup as well. We will have a bit of fun out on the course at Mission Hills.
“We have been friends since the Challenge Tour. I bumped into him when I was first reserve at the French Open and he was on the putting green. We got chatting and then started rooming together on the Challenge Tour. We have been very good mates for eight years now. We are neighbours in Lake Nona and play quite a few practice rounds together when we are over there together. It’s going to be brilliant at Mission Hills and more than anything it will be great fun.”
Rose said: “I’m really looking forward to the World Cup. Ian and I go way back and to have the chance to represent my country with one of my good friends is going to be exciting. The friendship that we have will hopefully create the right atmosphere for us to play good golf – that’s what we are hoping for anyway.”
Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge are reunited for Wales in a bid to repeat their 2005 victory. Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren - beaten in a play-off by Germany last year – also resume their partnership while the United States are represented by Boo Weekly and Heath Slocum as they challenge for a title last won by Tiger Woods and David Duval in 2000.
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