The European Tour travels to South Korea this week for the third running of the Ballantine’s Championship. Thongchai Jaidee defends the title but faces stiff competition from a star-studded field.
In only its third year, the Ballantine’s Championship has already developed a reputation for attracting one of the strongest fields on the European Tour schedule. This year, a resurgent Ernie Els will start as favourite with America’s Anthony Kim, Henrik Stenson of Sweden and home favourite Y.E. Yang hot on his heels.
Kim who was born to Korean parents is keen to secure his first professional victory outside the USA. “I’m so excited to see Korean faces in the gallery and hopefully I can make them all proud,” he said. “I want to play all over the world, and I think it’s important for young players like myself and others to grow the game wherever we can.”
Yang is looking to make it two victories in the space of two weeks having won last week’s Volvo China Open. “I haven’t won two weeks in a row before,” he said. “So it’s another goal for me. I have an opportunity to do it this week.”
The volcanic ash cloud disrupting air travel over Europe hasn’t had too significant an impact on the field, most having travelled direct from China. But, Miguel Angel Jimenez is one notable absentee – the Spaniard was unable to secure a flight.
Set on Jeju Island, the course at Pinx Golf Club was designed by Ted Robinson and opened for play in 1999. It’s a challenging track where scoring tends to be relatively high, particularly when the wind blows. Last year, Jaidee saw off Sung-hoon Kang and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano in a playoff after the trio had finished tied on four-under-par. On the Saturday of the tournament, wind speeds were very high and only one player in the field (Francois Delamontagne) managed to break par.
The forecast for this week is for some rain during the early part of the tournament. With rain falling over the past several days, the 7,345 yard layout will be playing long.
Venue: Pinx GC, Jeju Island, South Korea
Date: Apr 22-25
Course stats: par 72, 7,345 yards
Purse: €2,205,000 Winner: €366,660
Defending Champion: Thongchai Jaidee (-4)
Thursday 22 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 6am
Friday 23 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 6am
Saturday 24 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 4.30am
Sunday 25 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 4.30am
Thongchai Jaidee – Despite having to withdraw at Augusta with an elbow injury. The defending Ballantine’s champion was back playing in China last week where he finished a respectable tied 8th. He clearly enjoys the course at Pinx GC and always performs well when the European Tour is in Asia.
Ernie Els – The three-time Major champion has been playing some excellent golf at the start of the 2010 season and was tied fourth in his debut in this event last year.
Rhys Davies – Already a winner in 2010, the young Welshman is a great talent. His silky smooth putting stroke has produced some impressive displays on the greens over the past few weeks.
Y.E. Yang – Last week’s Volvo China Open winner is on a superb run of form. He grew up on Jeju Island so knows the course well.
Key hole: 18th. A testing par-4 measuring 490 yards. It was the site of a thrilling conclusion to the 2008 tournament as Graeme McDowell and Jeev Milkha Singh had to play the hole four times before McDowell finally triumphed.
Skills required: Creativity. Ted Robinson, the course designer, intended that every club in the bag be used in a round here and Robin Nelson’s 2007 re-design has only accentuated the challenge. Also dealing with the potentially blustery conditions. It’s rare for there to be four calm days at Pinx GC.