The European Tour heads for China this week and the BMW Masters at Lake Malaren Golf Club. An extremely strong field has assembled including 11 of the 12 members of Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team.

This event began life last year as the Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters. It featured a limited field of just 30 players. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy won the tournament by overcoming Anthony Kim in a playoff. McIlroy picked up a cheque for $2,000,000 – the largest first prize in golf.

This season the tournament has become part of the European Tour schedule and the field expanded to 78 players. There’s a hefty prize fund with the winner set to collect almost €900,000.

As such, the competition has attracted many of the biggest star names in European Golf. Rory McIlroy is back to defend his title and he’s relishing the challenge.

“I can’t wait to return to Shanghai and it will definitely be special going back there as a reigning Major Champion once again,” he said. “The BMW Masters looks like it is going to be a top class tournament.”

Although McIlroy will start as favourite he will face the sternest competition. Three more of the top-five players on the Official World Golf Ranking will start this week, and they’re all English. Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose have all made the journey to China.

The tournament has been co-sanctioned with the Chinese Golf Association and there are also 14 players from that organisation in the field.

The Masters Course at Lake Malaren is a Jack Nicklaus designed parkland layout featuring his usual blend of extensive bunkering and large water hazards. It’s a visually intimidating course but, even though it can be stretched to 7,600 yards, it shouldn’t prove overly taxing for the world’s best – Rory McIlroy’s 2011 winning total of 18-under-par gives evidence of that.

Venue: Lake Malaren Golf Club, Shanghai, China
Date: October 25-28
Course stats: par 72, 7,607 yards
Purse: €5,373,000 Winner: €888,560
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy (-18)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 25 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 5.30am
Friday 26 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 5.30am
Saturday 27 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 5.30am
Sunday 28 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 5.30am

Player Watch:
Nicolas Colsaerts – The Belgian has been a revelation in 2012 and he’s climbed to 33rd on the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s one of the longest hitters in golf so the length of this Nicklaus layout won’t trouble him.

Branden Grace – He’s won in back-to-back starts on Tour already this year and he could do it again after his victory in the Dunhill Links. He seems to be able to get on a roll and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him contend this week. He has another incentive – The Race to Dubai. With huge prize money available this week, a good showing would give him a real chance of threatening Rory McIlroy at the head of the standings. That, however, all depends on how the Northern Irishman performs.

Rory McIlroy – It’s hard to look past the World Number 1 and defending champion. When he’s on his game, he’s simply better than everyone out there at the moment. He’s also won here last year so clearly enjoys the course and will feed on the good memories of 2011.

Key Hole: 18th – A classic Nicklaus finishing hole. A dog-leg left with water all down the left hand side. It’s 466 yards long so demands two solid blows and the more of the corner you cut off from the tee, the shorter the approach will be.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
CIMB Classic preview