Brooks Koepka will help kick off the PGA TOUR’s annual Asian swing by defending his title at this week’s THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES which saw him become World No. 1 for the first time in his career some 12 months ago.
The powerful American star is amongst a slew of top names from the world’s leading circuit to feature in three successive PGA TOUR official tournaments in the Far East which include the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.
The three events will showcase 78-man fields with no halfway cut, offering close to US$30 million in combined prize funds and valuable FedExCup 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, the 2015 FedExCup champion, will make their debuts in Korea’s only PGA TOUR which offers US$9.75 million in prize money. Inaugural CJ CUP winner Justin Thomas and Korea’s newest star Sungjae Im are amongst the other big names headlining this week.
Golf legend Tiger Woods will star in next week’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, which also offers US$9.75 million in prize money, in what will be his first tournament back after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair minor cartilage damage in August. Woods will be joined by 2019 FedExCup champion and PGA TOUR Player of the Year, Rory McIlroy and local hero Hideki Matsuyama, a five-time PGA TOUR winner, in Japan.
Asia’s lone World Golf Championships event in China, with the region’s richest purse at US$10.25 million, sees rising star Xander Schauffele set to defend his WGC-HSBC Champions title against a powerful line-up which includes 2018 winner Justin Rose, McIlroy, Koepka and Haotong Li, China’s first golfer to qualify for the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia in December.
Koepka, 29, 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 especially after a year that I had,” said Koepka, who finished T2 (Masters Tournament), first (PGA Championship), second (U.S. Open) and T4 (Open Championship) in the four major championships last season, and was first in the regular-season FedExCup standings to earn a cool US$2 million bonus for winning the Wyndham Rewards .
“To look at what I’ve done this year, just show consistency and try to take my game to a new level – and I’ve done that,” he added.
In Japan, Woods resumes his chase to match Sam Snead’s PGA TOUR record of 82 career TOUR titles where he is one victory shy of the mark. A return to Asia for the first time since 2012 will spark Tiger-mania as the American legend, whose mother is Thai, continues to be like a pied-piper attracting hordes of fans with his mesmerising golf. Organisers said tickets to the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP are fully 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.
Woods will also be aiming to produce a winning run and justify picking himself as playing Captain in the Presidents Cup. He will name four picks after the Asian swing, as with International Team Captain Ernie Els, to round up their 12-man teams. “While I was disappointed to not earn one of the top 8 spots, I’m hopeful to perform well at my next start in Japan,” he said.
Schauffele, who is already locked in for his Presidents Cup debut, used his HSBC triumph to finish second in the 2018-19 FedExCup. A four-time winner, Schauffele, whose mother is from Chinese Taipei, is itching to return to winning ways. “Winning is the ultimate satisfaction on the PGA TOUR,” said the 25-year-old.
While there is so much to play for, Asia’s aspiring golfers will have golden opportunities to stamp their mark against the PGA TOUR’s top guns through exemption spots offered in support of local and regional golf development.
U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland believes the stars of the game have responded to a call of duty to help grow the game in Asia. He added the revamped PGA TOUR Schedule has also 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 over to Asia. There’s big money, no cuts and small fields. The fans over 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.”
Young 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 really looking forward to the next few weeks. Getting into the PGA TOUR’s biggest tournaments in Asia is a great opportunity.”