Macau, May 5: World number eight Padraig Harrington tees off in the US$275,000 Macau Open on Thursday bidding to plunder another piece of silverware in the Far East.
The Irish star, who has finished in the top-three of the European money ranking in the past three seasons, has always enjoyed successful forays to Asia, and has won titles in Hong Kong and Taiwan along with other numerous top-10 finishes.
With his form this season showing no signs of abating, Harrington is tipped to shine in the 10th leg of this season’s Asian Tour and prevent local favourite Zhang Liang-wei of China a third Macau Open title in four years.
“I arrived on Monday and have slept well. I think I have got over my jetlag,” said Harrington today. “My form has been good and I’ve been working on my swing with Bob (Torrance). I tend to hit under the ball a little bit and I’ve been trying to keep my right shoulder higher through the ball. It really helps my swing and I’m happy with how things are going. My game is really developing at the moment.”
Harrington, who will play the first two rounds alongside Zhang, enjoyed a strong run in America in spring with a second place finish in the Players Championship, considered the ‘fifth Major’ before coming in fourth in the BellSouth Classic. He then enjoyed a fifth Masters appearance at Augusta National last month and finished tied 13th and scored a hole-in-one on the 16th hole in the final round.
However, the Irishman is predicting a tight leaderboard in Macau. “The course here is difficult. The layout is risk-reward and there is a lot of trouble out there. You can shoot a lot of birdies but also a lot of bogeys and double bogeys. I can see why Macau has had a few play-offs in the past and I’m sure it’ll be another tight finish,” said Harrington, who will head to Shanghai next week to defend his BMW Asian Open title, an event jointly sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours.
Zhang, a popular figure in Macau as his home-base Shenzhen is just a ferry ride away, has made the Macau Open very much his own tournament, winning back to back titles in 2001 and 2002. He triumphed over Nick Price of Zimbabwe after a memorable five-hole play-off for his second win and is looking forward to completing his hat-trick this week.
“This course here suits me,” said Zhang, whose low ball-flight trajectory is well suited for the par-71 Macau Golf and Country Club layout which is exposed to weather elements.
“I’ve always received a lot of support from fans and I feel like I’m playing at home when I’m in Macau. The course here is challenging and the wind can make a big difference. I played well in patches last week in Beijing, so I’m looking for more consistency here. I need to putt better as well this week,” added the Chinese star, who was tied seventh at the inaugural Volkswagen Masters – China on Sunday.
Another player who has been elevated to prominence is India’s Rahil Gangjee, who entered last week’s event as an unknown entity before securing his maiden Asian Tour victory by beating the likes Phillip Price, Zhang and Korean maestro Kang Wook-soon.
Still over the moon, the 25-year-old was introduced in a press conference today as a ‘contender for the Macau Open’ and he was clearly relishing his new found fame. “I’ve had so many phone calls from well-wishers from back home and my parents and coach Ajay Gupta were simply ecstatic. I’ve had the Indian media calling me for telephone interviews and this is all so new to me.
“I’m still going to go out there this week and have fun. Last week was great but it’s back to work here in Macau. It starts afresh for me,” said Gangjee.
His first name Rahil means traveller and his new exempt status as an Asian Tour winner will see him travelling the airways more frequently now. “I will get to play in any event in Asia and all the joint-sanctioned events with the European Tour and it’s a tremendous opportunity for me.
“At the start of this year, I failed to secure my card from the Asian Tour Qualifying School. Now, I’ve got a two year exemption and can play in anywhere,” said Gangjee.
Filipino Gerald Rosales will be hoping to emulate his sister, Jennifer, who secured her maiden LPGA victory in the US on Sunday. Rosales was in contention for his first Asian Tour victory last week before settling for equal ninth place in Beijing. “It was great that she won her first title. I had a good week last week, so hopefully, it will carry on here. But it’s a tough course this week and the greens are difficult,” said Rosales.
Amongst the other top names in the field include Australian Scott Barr, who finished runner-up to Colin Montgomerie, in last year’s Macau Open, Aussie duo Richard Moir and Adam Groom, both equal third last week, Singapore’s Mardan Mamat and Kyi Hla Han of Myanmar.
About the Macau Open 2004
The Macau Open commemorates its 7th year starting in 1998. It is sponsored by the Macau Sports and Development Board. Participating sponsors include the Macau Government Tourist Group, the Holiday Inn Macau as the official Hotel and supplier sponsors, Macao Coca-Cola Beverage Co., Ltd., Spa Philosophy, Bridgestone as the official ball supplier and Carlsberg as the official beer. The Macau Open has been held at the Macau Golf and Country Club ever since its inception. Octagon Greater China is the event promoter.