SHANGHAI – Tiger Woods is playing for the third time in China with a strategy he’s used in winning 81 times around the world.
“Finish lower than anybody else,” Woods said Wednesday at the HSBC Champions.
That has proved elusive at Sheshan International Golf Club, and it doesn’t figure to be any easier this time around.
Woods headlines the strongest field ever in Asia, which includes world No. 2 Phil Mickelson, three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, defending champion Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who leads the Race to Dubai.
The world’s No. 1 player was runner-up in 2005 and 2006 at the HSBC Championship, the latter when he finished two shots behind a South Korean that hardly anyone knew – Y.E. Yang, who is far more famous now.
Yang became the first player to win a major championship where Woods had the 54-hole lead, winning by three shots in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine. It was the first major for an Asian-born player.
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“It was a relaxed atmosphere for me,” Yang said. “Now, there’s a little bit more pressure, I guess. I’m not as relaxed as I was back in ’06. Maybe it’s because Tiger is here. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through a lot of tournaments. Maybe it’s because the stress finally is trickling down.”
There is a lot more punch behind the fifth edition of this tournament. On each of the bright red signs at tee boxes and grandstands is that familiar logo of a spinning globe to signify this has become a World Golf Championship, the first individual WGC held in Asia.
That might help Woods get over the hump.
Woods has won a WGC event every year since the series began in 1999, including the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in August. He now has won 16 times in his 30 starts in the WGCs, and has never finished out of the top 10 in a stroke play WGC event.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing against such great fields,” Woods said. “That’s the whole idea of having the World Golf Championships. It’s not just the major championships that we all get together, and The Players (Championship). It’s now these World Golf Championships events. It’s a lot of fun for players to compete against these guys. For some reason, I’ve also had a lot of success.”
Garcia and Mickelson are past champions at Sheshan International, and the memories are particularly fond for Garcia.
A year ago, his victory moved him to a career-high No. 2 in the world, and he had opportunities earlier this year to move past Woods to No. 1 in the world ranking. Instead, the 29-year-old Spaniard has gone an entire season without winning.
He’s hopeful that will change this week.
“It’s a deeper field,” Garcia said. “A World Golf Championship always has a little bit more special feeling.”
Even so, the biggest threat might be Mickelson.
With a putting tip from former PGA champion Dave Stockton, Mickelson feels as though he has put all the pieces together. It showed at the Tour Championship, which he won by three shots over Woods, and at the Presidents Cup, where he was 4-0-1.
Mickelson struggled last week at the Singapore Open, although he chalked that up to a grass he had never seen on the putting surfaces. He says he is just as excited now as he was when the FedEx Cup ended on the PGA Tour.
And it’s a big week for Lefty outside the ropes, too.
Mickelson disclosed Wednesday that he has two golf projects in China – a massive complex in Kumming that will feature two golf courses, a par 3 course and a teaching academy with former swing coach Rick Smith; and a course in Tian Jim in which the design is to be inspired by golf holes from around the world.
At a downtown press conference Tuesday, Mickelson spoke of the importance of helping stoke interest in China, and that it helps when he and Woods are among those appearing overseas.
This will be the first time they have competed against each other in Asia.
“I think this is a very important event for the players,” Mickelson said. “We want to help grow the game here in China. We want to compete against the best players in the world. And to be able to win a world-class event in China would mean a lot to me and all of the other players in the field.”
As for his courses, and his efforts to translate his short-game DVD and book into Chinese?
“To win here would help my cause in promoting the game of golf here,” Mickelson said.