Campbell keen to enhance global status

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2005, 12:00am

US Open champion Michael Campbell (pictured) tees up in the Volkswagen Masters, China tomorrow looking for a victory to enhance his growing reputation as a global player.

The Kiwi star, who broke through for his maiden major title in June, is among the top contenders at this week's US$300,000 Asian Tour event at Jinghua Golf Club on the outskirts of China's capital city.

Other top guns vying for the Volkswagen Masters, China crown include world number five Retief Goosen of South Africa, Chinese ace Zhang Lianwei, current Order of Merit leader Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand and title holder Rahil Gangjee of India.

'My game is pretty good right now. Over the last three months, I've put in some solid performances in the majors and I'm very happy,' said Campbell, who is ranked 19th in the world.

While he could be playing on the European Tour to defend his lead on the Order of Merit, Campbell said he was looking forward to taking on Asia's best players in the fastest golf growing nation.

The 36-year-old Campbell played in the Buddha Cup China Challenge here last weekend where he partnered Goosen and lost to Zhang and Liang Wenchong. 'We got our behinds kicked,' said Campbell. 'I think Zhang was nine under through 14 holes. He played unbelievably and will be a contender here.

'I enjoy coming out to Asia and to China. I'm a global player and I like to travel the world. The last month or so I have been travelling a lot. I just enjoy that.

'I've had a few relaxing days in Beijing ... I took the opportunity to visit the Forbidden City last night which was great. I'm looking forward to practice today and tomorrow to see the course and hopefully I'll come out smelling like roses from Thursday,' he said.

Campbell held off world number one Tiger Woods to win the US Open at Pinehurst and subsequently put in impressive performances in the remaining majors, finishing tied fifth in the British Open last month and then equal sixth in the US PGA Championship.

The Kiwi has tasted success in Asia previously, winning in Indonesia and Taiwan and he acknowledged that Asian golf was on the rise. 'Asian golf is getting better. Over the years, I've seen a lot of young talent coming through. It'll take a bit of time for the game to improve in China as it's a young sport and Zhang is an important man in this game.

'He's got a lot on his shoulders and he's succeeded so well without any help. He's going to be a golfing force in China for a long time. He's a great player and a world player. He knows what it takes to win.'

The 40-year-old Zhang has been on form in recent months, finishing 11th at the Scandinavian Masters and joint 34th in the Deutsche Bank Players Championship in Germany. Last weekend's triumph over Goosen and Campbell has added to his confidence for a sixth Asian Tour title.

'This is Beijing, my home,' said Zhang. 'Hopefully, I can finish better than last year's seventh place. I really like a good challenge. No matter which top players come to China, I'm always keen to face a good challenge. The Jinghua course here looks like a world-class facility and is very challenging. I'm looking forward to this event.'

The Volkswagen Masters, China, which was inaugurated last year, marks the start of the second half of the Asian Tour season. Thirteen Order of Merit events will be played from now until December.