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Asian swing heads West with the best

By CHUAH CHOO CHIANG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-16 09:21
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Rory McIlroy fires an approach shot during practice on Tuesday for the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in North Las Vegas, Nevada, where the world No 4 is hoping to win his first tournament of the year. [Photo/AFP]

The PGA Tour's annual Asian swing will be unlike any other this month as golf's reshuffled year sees two of the region's most prestigious tournaments make a detour from the Far East to the West Coast of the United States.

Fans are in for a treat as both events will showcase the best fields, world-class entertainment and provide Asia's rising stars the platform to sparkle on the big stage.

The CJ Cup and Zozo Championship, showpiece events for the PGA Tour in South Korea and Japan respectively, will this time be played at Shadow Creek in North Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.

The Asia-based tournaments were launched in 2017 and 2019 respectively to support the development of golf in their home countries and across Asia.

While the players will miss Asia's renowned hospitality, sumptuous food, diverse culture and fans, the tournaments will not be lacking for star quality.

World No 2 Jon Rahm, defending champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champ Rory McIlroy and this year's PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, who are the current top-five ranked golfers in the world, will feature in both events. In addition, the legendary Tiger Woods will chase down more history by gunning for an unprecedented 83rd win when he defends his Zozo Championship title at Sherwood.

A trip to Shadow Creek, a Tom Fazio-designed masterpiece, will no doubt provide the 27-year-old Thomas with a different kind of challenge in his CJ Cup defense against a stellar field which will include Brooks Koepka. The winner in 2018, Koepka, will make a return from injury after being on the sidelines for two months.

"The CJ Cup quickly became one of my favorite events on the tour. While winning twice certainly helped, the hospitality shown to us by CJ Group and the Korean community has made the tournament special to all of us as PGA Tour players," said Thomas. "It's unfortunate we won't be able to travel to Korea, but it is fantastic we will still be able to shine a light on CJ Group through the tournament at a venue like Shadow Creek."

McIlroy, meanwhile, will also be on a mission to secure his first win in 2020.

"I've watched how the tournament has become a success over the past few years and it'll be exciting to have the opportunity to compete in it for the first time," said McIlroy.

"I had a great time at the inaugural Zozo Championship (finishing joint third) and will be hoping to build on last year's success when we play at Sherwood. I'll miss playing in Japan this year, but hopefully we'll get to return soon."

Some of Asia's upcoming talents will rub shoulders with the game's elite in this reimagined swing.

South Korea's 18-year-old Kim Joo-hyung, who has already won three times on the Asian Development Tour and once on the Asian Tour, has been touted as a rising star. He featured in two PGA Tour events recently at the Safeway Open and Corales Puntacana Club & Resort Championship, managing to make the cut on both occasions.

Kim, who will feature in The CJ Cup, isn't shy to reveal his career goals. "I really would love to be world No 1... win all four majors, be in the Golf Hall of Fame, just those big things I always would love to achieve. I've had that mindset ever since I started playing golf, so it's always with me," said the teenager.

Japan's Takumi Kanaya, who was No 1 on the World Amateur Golf ranking, will also be hoping to make his mark after recently turning professional. The 22-year-old will feature in the Zozo Championship, slated from Oct 22-25.

The writer is the senior director of international marketing and communications for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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