Let&aposs call it the lull before the storm for Australian golf. The $8.5 million HSBC Champions tournament, part of the World Golf Championship events, takes place in Shanghai this weekend but the major players from this part of the world are not there. Adam Scott, the world No. 2, and Jason Day, ranked 18th in the official rankings, both declined despite the massive prize money on offer, presumably because they have such a heavy schedule ahead of them before Christmas at home. Tiger Woods also has declined to play, although the world No. 1 has a couple of assignments to complete his calendar year, including two exhibitions in Asia, his own tournament and a trip to play on the European Tour in Turkey. Woods played an exhibition match against Rory McIlroy at Mission Hills in China on Monday in a continuation of what the marketers would like to view as the big rivalry of the game. All of which has fallen somewhat flat since the Northern Irishman has had an inexplicably poor season by his high standards. The pair were miked up, giving viewers the dubious pleasure of hearing an ill Woods — he had picked up a cold from his daughter at home in Florida — clear his throat every five minutes and drop several expletive bombs. McIlroy, who is playing at Shanghai, was the sharper player since the European season is still running, and a birdie at the last gave him a one-shot win over Woods, who had not picked up a club since the Presidents Cup more than a fortnight ago. Three Australians — Brett Rumford, Scott Hend and Daniel Popovic — will tee it up in the HSBC, all with plenty of motivation. In particular, Rumford has a lot to play for at Sheshan International Golf Club, because the WGC is part of the European Tour playoff series, and he can elevate his position in the Race To Dubai. Having won consecutive tournaments earlier this year, he is 10th on the table with three tournaments remaining and eyeing a big pay cheque. Hend won in Asia last week and is hellbent on getting himself back to the PGA Tour in America after a couple of years honing his game in the east. Popovic is in the field on the strength of his Australian PGA Championship win last year, and in a 78-player field with no cut, has an opportunity to make more of a name for himself. Jin Jeong, the South Korean-born player who might be called an honourary Australian since he has lived in Melbourne for some years, also is in the field after his win in the Perth International a few weeks ago. World No. 3 Phil Mickelson is playing and so is world No. 4 Henrik Stenson, who has already dominated the US tour playoffs and happens to lead the Race to Dubai as well. In all 15 of the top 25 on the world rankings are playing, making a strong field. As for Scott and Day, they both have big programs in Australia, including teaming up in the ISPS Handa World Cup at Royal Melbourne next month. Scott intends playing all four of the big tournaments at home as part of his homecoming, starting with the Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast from 7 November. That is the first of three big events that include the Talisker Masters, where Scott defends his title, and the Emirates Australian Open at Royal Sydney from 28 November. Scott has not played at home in Australia since his triumph at Augusta National in April, and his appearances at Royal Pines, Royal Melbourne and Royal Sydney will be some sort of homecoming parade. The anticipation is building toward what should be a magnificent summer of golf.
Author: Martin Blake / Golf.org.au