Zhang confident of World Cup glory
'Liang is obviously playing extremely well ... we're a great match'
China's second-ranked player, Zhang Liangwei, believes he and partner Liang Wenchong have what it takes to win the Omega Mission Hills World Cup next week in Shenzhen.
Zhang (pictured), 42, said the combination of home support, Liang's rich vein of form and his own love of team competitions mean the Chinese duo could be the surprise package of the tournament, which is returning to the Middle Kingdom for the first time since 1995.
'I'm very much looking forward to playing at Mission Hills,' said Zhang, whose one-over-par round yesterday dropped him out of contention in the UBS Hong Kong Open. 'Liang is obviously playing extremely well and the Chinese people will give us the inspiration to do our best. It won't be easy but I think we have a good chance to win.'
Zhang, a former nationally ranked javelin thrower who turned to golf while employed as a caddie master at Zhuhai Golf Club in Guangdong province, and Liang, the odds-on favourite to win this year's Asian Tour Order of Merit, have gelled well together in the past.
At the Dynasty Cup - a Ryder Cup-style event played between teams from the Asian and Japanese tours - the pair were instrumental in both of Asia's victories to date, having combined for a perfect 100 per cent record. This, Zhang claims, will stand them in good stead against the other 27 teams in the competition.
'In team events like the World Cup, it's very important that you and your partner get along well,' said Zhang, who made history in 2004 by becoming the first Chinese player to tee up at the US Masters at Augusta National. 'Me and Liang have that - we're very good friends. From my point of view, I always enjoy playing team competitions - the format is a lot different than what we normally play, which makes it fun,' he said.
The World Cup has produced some unexpected winners in recent times. Germany, led by veteran Bernhard Langer, won last year's event, while Wales, represented by Bradley Dredge and Stephen Dodd, were champions in 2005. And Zhang thinks that another unheralded team could break through this time.
'There will be many great players next week, but it's a team competition, which means both players have to perform; you have to partner well together. Because we've played so much together Liang knows my game and I know his. I think we're a great match,' he said.
Zhang hasn't enjoyed the best of seasons; ranked 63rd on the Asian Tour Order of Merit with earnings of just over US$68,000 from 11 events, the veteran languishes far behind his younger compatriot. But a runaway victory on the China Tour last month boosted his spirits and he heads into next week with confidence.
'My putter didn't work well at the beginning of the year,' Zhang admitted. 'But I'm starting to find my form now and I'm encouraged by my recent performances. Next week will be exciting.'
It's been a while
Golf's World Cup was last held in China in this year. It takes place at Mission Hills next week: 1995