Local hero Liang vies with stars at China Masters
Shanghai: Defending champion and local favourite Liang Wenchong will have to defeat former Major winners Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke if he is to retain the Nanshan China Masters starting Thursday.
The Chinese golf star won last year`s tournament in gripping style, playing the 18th with South Korea`s Y.E. Yang five times before coming out on top.
This year`s field at the $1 million OneAsia event includes Schwartzel and Clarke, who won the US Masters and Open Championship respectively in 2011.
But Liang is looking forward to playing with the pair at Nanshan International Golf Club`s Montgomerie course in the eastern province of Shandong.
"I`m definitely looking forward to playing with such great champions -- especially if we get the chance to play together in the same flight," said Liang, who is ranked 155 in the world.
"In my experience of partnering big players like this, the key is their ability to regulate themselves and get it up-and-down even if they aren`t familiar with the course. That is what I will try to do."
Yang, who won the 2009 PGA Championships to become the first Major winner from Asia, will also be hoping to overcome the heartbreak of his sudden-death loss last year.
The 2012 Nanshan China Masters was a breakthrough event for many local players, with a record 19 mainlanders making the cut -- more than any other international event held in the country, according to organisers.
A number of Chinese youngsters are making their names in the world of golf, with Guan Tianlang making the cut at the US Masters in April aged just 14, and Andy Zhang becoming the youngest-ever player at the US Open when he qualified at the same age last year.
Clarke, of Northern Ireland, said he expected to see more products of China`s golf boom in the near future.
"There has been a quite remarkable change for the good in China and I expect this to continue and accelerate in the immediate future," Clarke said.
"It won`t be that long before a Chinese player is competing regularly at the top end."
Australia`s Andre Stolz, who was the OneAsia Order of Merit champion in 2011, a year after Liang, will also be at the Nanshan China Masters, along with OneAsia`s two other previous Order of Merit winners -- Scott Strange, also from Australia, (2009) and Kim Bi-o of South Korea (2012).