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Greg Norman top draw for BMW Asian Open

Greg Norman, known better as the 'The Great White Shark', tees off in the US$1.5 million BMW Asian Open this week hoping to continue a winning trend amongst the forty somethings.

On Sunday, American Joey Sindelar and Barry Lane of England won on both sides of the Atlantic at the age of 46 and 43 respectively and the legendary Australian will be driving determinedly to live up to his star billing in the BMW-backed event, which is sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours and China Golf Association.

"I think it's just a fact that players are fitter and technology has probably helped the older guys just as much as the younger guys. The fitness programme these guys are working on now are probably more in their 40s than in their 20s.

"I think it's great. If you're a young kid who is 18 or 19 out there, they'll be saying I've got another 20 years to win a tournament and you can't say that in any other sport," said Norman, who still looks far from his 49 years of age.

Former world number one Norman, a winner of 88 international titles, will be joined by a strong cast at Tomson Golf Club this week. Irishman Padraig Harrington, the eighth-ranked player in the world, is the defending champion while top Asians - Korean star Choi Kyung-ju , India 's Jyoti Randhawa and Chinese stalwart Zhang Lian-wei - will spearhead the region's challenge. Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has already won twice this season, and inaugural BMW Asian Open winner Jarmo Sandelin will also be chasing for the US$250,000 top cheque.

On the Asian Tour this season, Thailand 's Boonchu Ruangkit won at the age of 47 while American Mark O'Meara triumphed on the European Tour's Dubai Desert Classic, also at the age of 47 - stats that the Great White Shark hopes to better at the BMW Asian Open.

In a packed press conference today, Norman said that he was excited to feature in the third edition of the BMW Asian Open to help promote the game further in China . " China is the only country in the world which has a 100% growth in the game of golf. It's growing at the level like no other country in the world. In America right now, the rounds are going down to 1.3% or 1.5% per year. Here the rounds are going up by 100%.

"Anytime you can get involved with the growth of golf on a global basis, you want to be involved. You see the players up here on the podium supporting the game of golf. I like being involved and it's important to support the game.

"You see sponsors like BMW supporting the game, promoting the game in China or anywhere throughout the Pacific Rim , it's tremendous," said Norman .

He said China could follow in the footsteps of Japan in producing great champions on the international stage. The Aussie also threw his backing for golf to be included in the Olympics when Beijing hosts the Games in 2008.

"If you look back to 25 or 30 years ago in Japan , the number of golf courses grew over there and they produced great golfers over the years like Isao Aoki to the Ozaki brothers and they keep going on and on.

"I don't think there are any limitations. Right now with China , it's the tip of the sphere. It is emerging in sport. It'll probably take a generation for it to really start kicking in. Because of the popularity that has been generated, because of corporations like BMW is willing to come to a city like Shanghai to promote the game of golf, it'll become better.

"I think golf should be in the Olympics and should be a demonstration sport. The way golf is growing over the last five years, it's probably worthy for it to be included. You have 400 million youth in this country and if you can capture even a single digit percentage of that, it's going to be huge," said Norman , adding that amateurs and professionals should mix it up at the Olympics..

He played briefly in a specially arranged BMW Shoot-out this afternoon but was knocked out after four holes. Still, the spectacular golf course left him with a strong impression.

"It seems like a narrow golf course. At sea level here, the heat is a factor here. The rough is also thick in places and I'm going to pay more attention tomorrow (in the Pro-Am) to learn more of the course," said Norman .

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