Jeju Island, Korea: Brooks Koepka will help kick off the PGA Tour’s annual Asian swing by defending his title at this week’s US$9.75 million THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES.
The powerful American is among a slew of top names to feature in three successive PGA Tour official tournaments in the Far East which include the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan and the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.
The three events will showcase 78-man fields with no half-way cut, offering close to US$30 million in combined prize funds and FedEx Cup points towards the 2019-20 PGA Tour Season.
World Golf Hall of Fame member Phil Mickelson, a 44-time PGA Tour champion, and Jordan Spieth will make their debuts in Korea while inaugural CJ CUP winner Justin Thomas and Im Sung-jae, Korea’s newest star, are among other big names headlining this week.
Next week, the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, which also offers US$9.75 million in prize money, replaces the CIMB Classic, previously played at TPC Kuala Lumpur, on the schedule.
Tiger Woods will take centre stage in Japan in what will be his first tournament back after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in August to repair minor cartilage damage.
Woods will be joined in Japan by 2019 FedEx Cup champion and PGA Tour Player of the Year Rory McIlroy and local hero Hideki Matsuyama, a five-time PGA Tour winner.
Asia’s lone World Golf Championships event in Shanghai, with the region’s richest purse at US$10.25 million, will see Xander Schauffele defend his WGC-HSBC Champions title against a powerful line-up which includes 2018 winner Justin Rose, McIlroy, Koepka and Li Haotong, China’s first golfer to qualify for the Presidents Cup, which will be held at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December.
Koepka shrugged off a rare missed cut in his first tournament of the 2019-20 campaign two weeks ago as he looks to reprise his winning form in Korea. “I enjoy Asia. It’s always a fun place to go. I felt it was important to win in Jeju last year,” said the 29-year-old whose Korean triumph took him to the world number one position for the first time.
In Japan, Woods resumes his chase to match Sam Snead’s record of 82 career PGA Tour titles. He is currently one victory shy of the mark. A return to Asia for the first time since 2012 will spark Tiger-mania with organisers confirming that tickets to the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP are sold out.
“I’m excited to play in the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP and return to Japan, one of my favourite countries,” said the 43-year-old, who has an impressive track record in Asia, winning six times including twice in Japan.
Meanwhile, Asia’s leading golfers will have golden opportunities to stamp their mark through exemption spots offered in support of local and regional golf development.
US Open champion Gary Woodland believes the stars of the game have responded to a call of duty to help grow the game in Asia. The revamped PGA Tour schedule, he said, has enhanced the importance of the Asian swing. “It’s huge now with the new schedule,” said Woodland, who finished runner-up at THE CJ CUP after a closing 63 last year.
“With so many starts before the end of the year, you have to go to Asia. There’s big money, no cuts and small fields. The fans there love golf, they are golf hungry and it’s good for us to get out of our norm, spread the game and do our part.”
Thai Jazz Janewattananond, who has earned starts in all three tournaments through his ranking on the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour, said: “I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. Getting into the PGA Tour’s biggest tournaments in Asia is a great opportunity.”