HSBC event gets WGC status
New challenge in Asia (Gallo Images)
Shanghai - The HSBC Champions tournament will become part of the elite World Golf Championship series from November, presenting Tiger Woods with a new challenge in Asia.
The International Federation of PGA Tours announced Tuesday that the Shanghai event, first staged four years ago, had been elevated to World Golf Championship status and would increase its prize money to $7 million - a high for the sport in the region.
Top-ranked Woods and defending champion Sergio Garcia have confirmed their entries for the November 5-8 tournament.
Woods has won at the other World Golf Championship events.
He was runner-up at HSBC Champions tournament at Shanghai's Sheshan International Golf Club in 2005 and 2006, and now has extra incentive to win the title and add it to his other WGC wins.
"It is an event that symbolises the amazing progress of golf in Asia and its new World Golf Championships status underlines how firmly China has established its place on the global golf calendar," Woods said in a statement. "I enjoy playing around the world when possible, and having a WGC event in China is very important to the global growth of the game."
The HSBC Champions began in 2005 and had been sanctioned by every major golf tour except the PGA Tour. The expansion to WGC status and the extra prize money will make it the richest golf event in Asia.
"This is one of the most significant steps ever taken in the globalization of golf, and one of the most logical," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. "It was obviously the tournament outside golf's traditional heartlands that was tailor-made to be included as a World Golf Championships event.
"World-class golf has arrived on this continent and the map of the golf world may never look the same."
The decision to raise the status of the tournament was a coup for Shanghai, which has sought to burnish its credentials as a major sports venue for Formula One auto racing, tennis and football as well as golf.
HSBC Champions plans to return to Shanghai in 2010, when the city hosts the World Expo. But "2011, 2012 and beyond is up for discussion," Giles Morgan, HSBC's head of sponsorships, told reporters in Shanghai.
Zhang Xiaoning, general secretary of the Chinese Golf Association, said the decision would hinge largely on support from the local government.
"The course is important but the other issue is the attitude of the local officials and their support," Zhang said.
HSBC Champions organizers said the qualifying criteria would be altered. International fields for the WGC events are selected using the official world rankings and the money lists for the individual sanctioning tours involved, which include the PGA Tour, European Tour, Asian Tour, Australasian Tour and Japan Tour.
Chinese players have yet to make significant inroads in WGC, 25 years after the sport was reintroduced to their country.
"We have great golf courses and I'm certain we have the people. What we lack is the technique to play good golf," Zhang said.
The World Golf Championships have been held on five continents since 1999. In 2009, the Accenture Match Play Championships was held in Arizona, the CA Championships at Doral, Florida, and the Bridgestone Invitational is set for Akron, Ohio in August.
Woods will travel to Australia the week after the HSBC Champions for the Australian Masters near Melbourne.