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Ryder Cup players heading for New Zealand

Australasian golf fans are in for a treat as the field for February's Holden New Zealand Open continues to build with the entry of six Ryder Cup players.

Irishman Paul McGinley and Englishman David Howell, who were both members of this year's triumphant European team, have provided a big boost to the $NZ1.5 million event, co-sanctioned by the European Tour for the first time.

McGinley, Howell, Italian Constantino Rocca, Scot Andrew Coltart, Swede Pierre Fulke and Englishman Barry Lane are the first European players to enter New Zealand's richest ever golf tournament, to be played at Gulf Harbour, just north of Auckland, from 10-13 February. They have until the end of January to confirm.

McGinley and Howell played key roles in September's crushing victory by Europe in the 35th Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan.

Howell, ranked No. 41 in the world, becomes the second player in the top 50 to enter within a few days, following Australia's world No. 46 Nick O'Hern.

"It's an excellent fillip for tournament,'' Holden New Zealand Open player liaison, Greg Turner said.

"We don't have the resources to attract the very top ranked players. But we can offer is a chance to play in a new country, some very reasonable prizemoney and provide an enjoyable experience while they are here."

"So it's very gratifying to attract players of this level to the tournament. Frankly we had not anticipated attracting players ranked in the top-50, so right now players like Howell are a very big plus for us."

"To have six Ryder Cup golfers enter for Gulf Harbour will provide a real spectacle for the New Zealand golf fans.''

Howell, 29, was 10th on the European Tour this year with 10 top-10 finishes, including three memorable third placings in the American Express WGC, Dubai Desert Classic and Scottish Open.

His form earned him a debut appearance in the Ryder Cup where he enjoyed a win and a loss at Oakland Hills.

He has previously been successful Down Under, winning the Australian PGA Championship six years ago, along with the Dubai Desert Classic three months later.

McGinley, ranked 69th in the world, is remembered as the man who holed the winning putt for Europe to claim the 34th Ryder Cup at the Belfry, Ireland when he grabbed a half with Jim Furyk.

The Irishman again showed his class with an unbeaten record in September's 35th Ryder Cup, including a singles win over Stewart Cink and a memorable foursomes victory with compatriot Padraig Harrington over Tiger Woods and Davis Love.

A three-time winner on the European Tour, his highlights this year included a superb sixth in the US PGA and two runner-up efforts in the Dubai Desert Classic and KLM Dutch Open in seven top-10 finishes.

Rocca, 48, is Italy's most famous golfer, with six European Tour wins to his credit. He became the first Italian to play in the Ryder Cup when he made the first of three appearances in 1993.

He played a lead hand in Europe's win in the 1997 Cup at Valderrama with a crucial 4- and- singles win over Tiger Woods.

He is also remembered for his fluffed chip followed by a 20m putt on the 18th to force a playoff with John Daly at the 1995 British Open, which he subsequently lost. He played at Gulf Harbour in the 1998 World Cup.

Fulke, 33, was a member of the winning 2002 Ryder Cup team in Ireland. He comes from a rich sporting background as the Swedish national swimming champion and also a top-line handball player.

He has three European Tour victories to his credit including the Volvo Masters, Trophee Lancome and Scottish PGA, as well as finishing runner-up to Steve Stricker in the 2001 Accenture World Match Play final in Melbourne.

Lane, 44, notched up his 500th tournament on the European Tour this year and tasted victory at the British Masters, his first win in a decade. He won four times from 1988 to 1994. The Englishman enjoyed a strong season finishing 24th on the European money list.

Coltart, 34, has been an outstandingly popular player in Europe and Australia, where he won the Order of Merit in 1998, the same year he claimed his first European Tour win at the Qatar Masters.

A wildcard pick for the 1999 Ryder Cup, he has three European wins to his credit, the most recent in 2001. He is another to return to Gulf Harbour after representing Scotland in the World Cup in 1998.

Organisers expect to receive further European entries before Christmas.

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