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Golf in China continues to grow in status

Golf in China has come a long way since the country's last Emperor Pu Yi took lessons from his English tutor in the 1920s.

The Johnnie Walker Classic, won by Adam Scott on Sunday, underlined China's credentials as a lucrative venue to rival any in the game's traditional strongholds.

Scott was one of four players in the world's top 10 playing in Beijing last week and his wire-to-wire victory propelled the young Australian to number six in the official world rankings.

World number three Ernie Els was chasing a third Johnnie Walker Classic title while fellow South African Retief Goosen and Spain's Sergio Garcia also made the trip to China.

The quality of the field at the $2.3 million event meant that, unusually, the amount of world ranking points on offer matched those at the PGA Tour's Houston Open, won on Sunday by world number two Vijay Singh.

Last year, there were only seven occasions when tournaments on the European Tour offered more ranking points than the equivalent PGA Tour event in the United States.

However, the strength of tournament fields across the globe has been more accurately reflected since the official world rankings began to consider the game's top 200 players, instead of 100 as before, at the start of this year.

"This has improved the system and it is a much more accurate barometer of strength of field," Ian Barker of Official World Golf Ranking told Reuters on Monday.

"Plus any player now winning a fully sanctioned European or PGA Tour event receives a minimum 24 points, which is equivalent to fifth place at any of the four majors."

Scott collected 46 points for his three-shot victory in Beijing to climb four spots in the global pecking order. He also moved into third place in the European Tour's order of merit.

Britain's Colin Montgomerie, meanwhile, gained precious points in his bid to qualify for the U.S. Open in June by tying for sixth.

The seven-times European number one needs to break into the top 50 after slipping to 54th following a traumatic 2004 in which he went through a very public divorce.

With 9.2 points taken for sixth place, Montgomerie should now make up sufficient ground in his next four events.

"This is Asia's premier event and it's a big tournament points-wise," Montgomerie said on the eve of the Johnnie Walker Classic. "I'd like to take home as many of them as possible."

The event was one of five being staged in China on the European Tour in 2005 and was also sanctioned by the Asian and Australasian tours.

Several players voiced their support for bringing more tournaments to the world's most populous country.

"Four of the top 10 are here this week. Tiger's been here in the past," said Scott. "With the way golf is growing in this country, I'm sure the top guys will come and play at these high-profile events that are co-sanctioned.

"They will be coming back for sure. I'm expecting it."

Several players who competed in Beijing will travel on to Shanghai for this week's Asian Open, which is also a European Tour event.

World number five Goosen, who leads the European order of merit, backed the idea of staging more tournaments involving the top players from each continent.

"I think it's a great idea to have everybody come together," said the South African, who finished runner-up behind Scott at the weekend.

"I think that's the way to do it. That way you get all the best players of every continent playing."

Golf is still an elite sport in China but there are already 195 officially registered courses throughout the country, with a projected 1,000 more under construction.

European Ryder Cup player Thomas Bjorn believes the time is right to tap into China's vast potential and to forge closer ties with the Asian Tour.

"I've said all along...that the European Tour and the Asian Tour have a great future if they go it together," said the Dane.

"We have always been compared to the PGA Tour but I think the time has come to see what we can do to make our tour and the Asian Tour better.

"Co-sanctioned events are the saviour to both the European and the Asian tours. There's no greater future for us."


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