Golf Tours set sights on growing presence in Asia

Rory McIlroy plays a Chinese drum yesterday at an event to promote this week's BMW Masters in Shanghai. Picture: Getty
Rory McIlroy plays a Chinese drum yesterday at an event to promote this week's BMW Masters in Shanghai. Picture: Getty
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TRYING to work out if there are such things as boundaries for golf Tours these days is almost as difficult as keeping tabs on the latest boardroom developments at Ibrox.

The answer, based on this week’s events at least, is that they no longer exist as a result of the game having become an open shop, with Asia, not surprisingly, being the market that Tour bosses are trying to tap into.

Tomorrow, almost simultaneously, the European Tour, the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour will all see events get underway in the Far East, a scenario that underlines just how far each of those respective circuit’s wings now spread.

The European Tour, of course, is no stranger in that corner of the world these days – the 2013 schedule alone will have taken in six events in China, Korea, India and Malaysia once it has finished.

The same goes for the LPGA Tour, which visited Thailand and Singapore earlier in the season and is now in the middle of a “Far East Swing” comprising a series of events in China, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

For the PGA Tour, though, the CIMB Classic in Malaysia is currently its sole annual foray to the other side of the world, the event having been included on the US circuit for the first time last year and now, on this occasion, carrying FedEx Cup points.

Open champion Phil Mickelson heads the field at a new venue, the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, where his rivals for a whopping $1.3 million winner’s cheque include Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Keegan Bradley, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler and Martin Laird.

In another of golf’s modern-day complications, it’s the third event on the PGA Tour’s 2014 schedule yet this week’s European Tour event, the BMW Masters in Shanghai, is still part of its 2013 calendar.

Not the regular schedule, though. The event at Lake Malaren marks the start of “The Final Series”, the Tour’s new end-of-season package that involves two events in China, one in Turkey and one in Dubai, offering total prize money of $30.5m as well as a bonus pool of a further $3.75m.

It is similar to the FedEx Cup Play-Offs but different. In the FedEx, the size of the fields reduces as the events move toward the Tour Championship with players progressing according to their positions in the standings. The Final Series won’t carry the same level of excitement due to the fact it’s more fragmented. For instance, the second event, next week’s HSBC Champions also in Shanghai, is mainly for 2013 tournament winners only, which means a number of players in action this week will be left kicking their heels until week three, the Turkish Airlines Open.

Then, for the finale, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, there will be no Mickelson, due to the fact he’s only playing in the HSBC Champions, nor world No 1 Tiger Woods, who has only been lured to Turkey, as they are not European Tour members and therefore not eligible for that event.

It still, however, adds up to four cracking weeks at the end of a campaign that has seen 46 events already staged by the European Tour across 25 countries and, having woken from their Seve Trophy slumber, the circuit’s big guns are all giving these tournaments deserved support.

Fitness permitting – the Swede arrived in Shanghai with his forearm colourfully covered in “spider” tape after injuring it practising last week and was having an MRI scan last night – FedEx Cup winner and Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson is set to head a BMW Masters line-up that also includes Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.

Justin Rose, the US Open champion, enters the fray next week before moving on to Turkey and, though McIlroy, in 63rd, has work to do over the next fortnight – he’s not in the Turkey field – they should all be in the 60-strong field for the finale in Dubai.

That will definitely feature three Scots as Stephen Gallacher (14th), Scott Jamieson (25th) and Marc Warren (27th) are all safely inside the cut-off mark. For Gallacher, in particular, his target now is trying to earn a slice of that bonus money up for grabs in the final top ten and, helpfully, he’s in all three events – the only Scot in that position – before Dubai.

Paul Lawrie and Craig Lee, sitting 61st and 62nd respectively, also still have a good chance of making the Tour Championship, the pair having made this week’s field and also the Turkish Open. It will be the last chance saloon, meanwhile, for Richie Ramsay (71st) and David Drysdale (76th).