Stars take 18-hole challenge to 19th
Billed as an 18-hole event played over seven days and in seven cities, the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge actually went to 19 holes after world number two Lee Westwood beat Liang Wenchong, China's top player, in a play-off at Caesars Golf Macau yesterday.
Helped by Quarry Bay School student Nathan Han, 10, Westwood correctly read the green at the first play-off hole to sink a 12-foot putt for birdie and clinch the novel week-long odyssey, which had seen the players, including Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter, jetting around China.
'It has been a tremendous week and we have had great fun. But it has also been a very tiring week, I have never signed so many autographs, my wrist needs a physio for a week,' Westwood said after his triumph.
Westwood, Poulter and McIlroy, along with Liang, played two or three holes at different courses in Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Beijing, Dalian, Chongqing, Dongguan and Macau this past week.
Defending Hong Kong Open champion Poulter finished one shot behind Westwood and Liang over regulation, while McIlroy had a nightmare week, coming in at six over.
US Open champion McIlroy best summed up the event, saying: 'It has been absolutely unbelievable to go to different parts of China and see how the culture of the country changes from city to city.'
If this first year was more a public relations exercise to help raise the awareness of golf in China, and also to expose the mainland's many courses to the world, the future could see more tangible benefits with Liang revealing that the players were keen to return next year and spend more time with youngsters. 'All three players [Westwood, McIlroy and Poulter] said they would like to come back and have more interaction with the juniors instead of just signing autographs,' Liang said.
'This was a unique event in that the overseas stars were very relaxed. They were a lot of fun and we had a great time. But now we all want to do more for the youngsters in China and that is the plan, hopefully, for next year.'
Westwood, whose only disappointment was not seeing the Great Wall on his first visit to Beijing - 'unfortunately it was closed at 4am in the morning which was the only window of opportunity for us' - agreed that more interaction with children was the way forward.
'I have got a couple of golf schools in England and Liang has one in China and we talked about it and agreed that promoting golf by trying to involve kids would be nice. We all want to develop the game in China,' Westwood said.
'It is all about raising the profile of golf in this country. The facilities are already in place, and they are great, but now we need more involvement from the public and more funds into golf. This should not be hard now that golf is in the Olympics.
'Events like this help raise the profile. It has helped the public get close to us and this is what it is all about.'
There was no prize money at the end of the day, only a HK$200,000 diamond necklace for the winner.
'I had hoped to win it for my wife, but she knows how hard golf is, and she is very supportive of me. She will not be disappointed,' Liang said.
cities were the focus of the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge that actually went to 19 holes before a winner was declared