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Olazabal hoping for return of form in Taiwan

Spain's Jose-Maria Olazabal will hope to go one better than he did last year when he tees off in the $1.5 million Asian Open on Thursday.

The twice major champion finished joint runner-up at Ta Shee Country Club on the outskirts of Taipei before claiming his second win of 2001 at the Hong Kong Open a week later.

It also signalled the start of a rich vein of form which the Spaniard carried into 2002, culminating with a victory at the Buick Invitational in America.

By mid-April he had notched a further six top-10 finishes from nine events on the U.S. PGA Tour, including fourth at the U.S. Masters, before losing his way for the remainder of the season.

"Right now I'm pretty much standing on uneven ground," the 1994 and 1999 U.S. Masters champion said on Tuesday.

"My driving has not been very good in the last few months ... it's worrying because I have struggled with my irons too.

"However, I have great memories from Asia last year and hopefully I can repeat my performance. I finished second here 12 months ago and then went on to win in Hong Kong.

"I like Ta Shee, I think it's a great golf course. It's very difficult when the wind blows and there's elevation on most holes from tee to green and that makes club selection difficult."

The Spaniard also hopes a recent session with Tiger Woods's former coach Butch Harmon will pay dividends at Ta Shee.

"I've struck the ball so much better since that session ... hopefully I'll start to see some good things this week," added the 36-year-old.

Olazabal will be up against three of Europe's victorious Ryder Cup team this week in Irish duo Padraig Harrington-- second on the European order of merit -- and Paul McGinley, as well as captain Sam Torrance.

Also in action will be twice major champion John Daly, who withdrew from this tournament last season owing to the September 11 attacks on the United States.

"After September 11 last year I was scared of flying but I made it a point to play this week," Daly said on Tuesday.

"My ball striking is currently very good. Last week I played well in China (in the TCL Open) but I didn't score (well)."

Likely to be leading the Asian challenge this week is the in-form Thai Thongchai Jaidee, runner-up with Olazabal in 2001 and second to Colin Montgomerie in China last week.

Thongchai's joint second finish last year secured him the 2001 Asian order of merit title in what was only his third season as a professional.

He tops the money list again this year but will need to continue his recent form in both Taiwan and Hong Kong if he is to stay ahead of second placed Arjun Atwal of India.

The Asian Open is joint-sanctioned event between the Asian PGA Tour and the European Tour and is the region's richest golf tournament outside Japan.

It also represents the first leg of the 2002/2003 European Tour. The 2001 Asian Open was won by Sweden's Jarmo Sandelin.

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