European Tour Season Begins in Taiwan


Padraig Harrington was in for a bit of a shock when he arrived in Taiwan for this weeks BMW Asian Open. It seems he didnt dress properly.
'This is my first trip to Taiwan and I was expecting it to be warmer. I didn't bring any sweaters with me,' he said. Apparently he didn't expect chilly weather, though it is now the third week of November.
Harrington is hoping to get a jump-start in his quest to become Europe's No. 1 player as another European Tour begins. The Irishman finished runner-up for the second straight year to South African Retief Goosen in Europe when the season ended two weeks ago.
The tournament, the first in the 2003 season, actually is played more than a month before the 2002 year ends. Asia's richest tournament outside of Japan, it is also the third last leg on the Asian PGA-run Davidoff Tour.
'I've had a solid year and I'm happy that I've played nicely and feel I can improve majors, said Harrington. I learned a lot of good stuff and played pretty solid in all the majors.
'I featured in the skins game in Singapore on Sunday and finished second again, as usual (behind Goosen). My game is not quite there, I just need to do a bit of things but it'll be OK.
Harrington, who has won five times in Europe and a string of runner-up outings, displayed his major credentials by finishing tied for fifth in the Masters and British Open, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open and tied for 11th at the PGA Championship this year.
He played on Europe's winning side against the United States in the Ryder Cup in September, then went on to claim his first title of the year at the Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland the following week.
'I was in contention at some stage in the first three majors and I was happy with that form. It's very promising,' he said.
His main challenge at the BMW Asian Open could come from Thai standout Thongchai Jaidee, who finished second behind Colin Montgomerie at last week's TCL Classic in China after a stirring back-nine duel.
Other big names in Taiwan include defending champion Jarmo Sandelin, former Masters winners Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam, Paul McGinley, who holed the winning putt in the Ryder Cup, Europe's captain Sam Torrance and American John Daly.
A weary Thongchai, who has played regularly in Japan this year, is ready to soldier on in his bid to regain his Davidoff Tour money tiyle. The former paratrooper earned widespread praise from Montgomerie, who rated Thongchai as 'the best Asian player that I've played with.'
'I'm a bit tired after a hectic season, but finishing second behind Colin Montgomerie has given me a boost and the chance to finish the year as No. 1 in Asia again. It's good to be back for the BMW Asian Open as I finished joint second here last year.
'While my aim is to win the Order of Merit (money title), it could so easily change as this week's purse is the biggest one on our tour,' said Thongchai, who will be playing in his 37th event of the year this week.
Thongchai, who will play the first two rounds with Olazabal and Daly, leads the merit battle with a haul of $183,014, with previous pacesetter Arjun Atwal of India in second place, who has won $177,674. But with a first prize check of $250,050 this week, the scenario could change dramatically after the BMW Asian Open.
Atwal, who won the European Tour-sanctioned Caltex Singapore Masters in February, is hoping to regain some form. 'I've been struggling of late, so the important thing for me is to play some decent golf here. I'll aim to keep things easy and just hit fairways and greens and make some putts,' said the Indian star.
Defending champion Sandelin, who came to Asia at the end of last year to 'make some Christmas shopping money', is hoping to get the perfect wedding gift as he will marry long-time sweetheart Linda in Stockholm next month.
'It's good to come back as the defending champion. I've not won back-to-back titles in my career, so maybe history will be made here this week. I'm getting married next month and it'll be nice to have some money for the wedding this time!' said the Swede.
'After winning the BMW Asian Open last year, I played very well for next few months. But after that, I changed my swing. I've started analysing my golf swing with a digital camera and then inputting the data into a swing analysis program this year. It's slowly coming together and I played well in my last event two weeks ago, so it is a nice time to find some form as I defend my title this week,' said Sandelin.