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YE Yang centre of attention at Ballantine's Championship
April 21, 2010

When Y.E. Yang returns for a tournament on his home island for the first time since winning the U.S. PGA championship, the South Korean crowd will be fixated on the man they call “The Tiger Hunter.”

Yang beat Tiger Woods at Hazeltine in August to become the first Asian man to win one of golf’s majors, earning him the new nickname in his homeland.

He returns to Jeju for a tournament for the first time since that triumph to contest the $2.9 million Ballantine’s Championship at the Pinx Club from Thursday.

The tournament is jointly sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, as well as the Korea PGA, and promises to be very different to the inaugural one Yang contested back in the 2008 when he finished unnoticed in a share of 43rd place.

“I guess there will be a bit more people (cheering) for me and my main goal is to leave an impression with them, the sponsors who have invested so much in me and ultimately put up a good show worthy of a major winner,” Yang said.

Yang didn’t start playing golf seriously until he was 19, when he took a job at a golf club in Jeju, where he’d grown up on a vegetable farm. His career took time to gather momentum until a meteoric rise in the last 12 months.

“I think I have learnt how to handle my nerves, but philosophy wise, it has always been step by step,” Yang said. “I always keep it steady and slow, and not try to rush it. If I had tried to vault myself from the Korean PGA to the PGA Tour, I think I would still be playing in Korea.”

Yang warmed up for the event in style last weekend by winning the China Open at Shanghai, his first victory since the PGA Championship and one he hopes will silence suggestions that the Hazeltine triumph was a one off.

“It was quite important for me to win,” Yang said. “There (were) some doubters about my game and I know that this win won’t abolish all those doubts, but I think it will alleviate me of some of the pressure those doubters have been throwing at me.”

More importantly, Yang is keen to carry on the momentum in South Korea.

“I haven’t won two weeks in a row before,” he said. “Perhaps that is an issue about me not being as focused in the next tournament after I’ve just won.

“So winning two weeks in a row is another goal for me … I’m thinking about how I can do that. It’s about having consistency in my game.”

Yang will have to first contend with a number of world-class golfers also vying for the Ballantines title.

Anthony Kim, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour whose parents moved from South Korea to the United States before he was born, is looking to build on his third-place finish in the Masters at Augusta earlier this month.

“I’m very excited and honored to be here in Korea, and I’ve been looking forward to coming back here to this tournament for a long time,” Kim said. “As far as my form is concerned, I’ve been scoring well and I’ve been playing pretty good golf.

“I’m pretty happy about how I’m playing in general, but mostly about how I’m chipping and putting. So if I can keep that up, I should be in good shape.”

Three-time major winner Ernie Els, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson and defending champion Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand are also in the field.

Most of the big names all made it to South Korea despite the travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud covering large parts of Europe. But others have not been so lucky.

Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain is among 11 golfers who will miss the tournament due to travel problems.

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