Paul Casey is aiming to continue his love affair with China’s burgeoning golf scene as he sets out to successfully defend his TCL Classic title this weekend at the Yalong Bay Golf Club on the resort island of Hainan.
Casey has won in two of his previous five appearances in the world’s most populous nation, claiming November’s Volvo China Open in Shenzhen in addition to last year’s TCL Classic.
The Englishman defends his title this weekend after claiming the crown with a play-off win over Irishman Paul McGinley, who has also returned for another crack at the event, while world number 14 David Howell will also be hoping for a happy return to Chinese soil.
Howell defeated Tiger Woods in a play-off in November to win the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai in November in his first and so far only previous appearance in China, and Casey is looking to end his compatriot’s short but unbeaten stint in the ‘middle kingdom’.
“China has been very, very good to me although I don’t quite have the 100% record that David has,” said the 28-year-old. “This will be my sixth event in China and I have won two.
“I don’t know what the reason is but I have always enjoyed myself here. People are always very hospitable and I am very relaxed here. There is no secret. If there was I wouldry to replicate it every week.”
Casey was joined at the pre-tournament press conference by European Order of merit leader Howell, McGinley and China’s number one Zhang Lian Wei while the field also boasts England’s Nick Dougherty, Malaysian Open winner Charlie Wi of South Korea and Singapore’s Mardan Mamat, who clinched last week’s Singapore Masters title.
Wi, in particular, is in a rich vein of form having also finished third at the Enjoy Jakarta HSBC Indonesia Open – which was won by Englishman Simon Dyson – as he moved to the top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
“I’m very happy to be back and it’s exciting to be back and trying to defend the title,” said Casey. “I won last year and it would be a lot easier if these three guys sitting here weren’t here.
“It’s good to have the competition and it’s going to add a lot of spice to this week and make it a challenge for everyone.
“I love the golf course here and it depends on the weather. Today it was difficult but last year was a lot of fun, wonderful conditions and great for scoring and a great tournament.”
Like the Shenzhen Golf Club where Casey won his first China-based tournament, the Yalong Bay course was created by Robert Trent Jones Design Company and he is hoping that will prove to be a positive omen again.
“When I won the Volvo China Open I think it was on a Robert Trent Jones course too and maybe that’s the link because they’re always great courses,” he said. “The greens here are grainy and the courses are set up to score well and I like that a lot and it makes it exciting.”