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Tiger Woods headlines HSBC Champions

World number one Tiger Woods stars in this week's inaugural HSBC Champions tournament looking to add China to his growing list of conquest.

The 29-year-old globe-trotting American headlines the elite US$5 million tournament starting on Thursday where he will be joined by world number two Vijay Singh, US Open champion Michael Campbell, Colin Montgomerie and Asia's top stars including Thaworn Wiratchant, Arjun Atwal and Zhang Lian-wei.

"I've always felt very comfortable coming to Asia . So any time I get a chance to come to Asia , I feel very, very comfortable. It's just a matter of coming here, competing, enjoying the culture and hopefully going home with a trophy," Woods told a packed press conference this afternoon.

With two major wins this season reaffirming his stature as one of the game's greats, Woods will start as firm favourite to cash in at the HSBC Champions, which is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Sunshine ( Southern Africa ) Tour. It will be his first Official World Golf Ranking event in the Middle Kingdom.

The 29-year-old arrived this morning from Atlanta after finishing second at the US PGA Tour Championship and enjoyed a nine-hole practice round at Shenshan International Golf Club. He later drove golf balls into the Huang Pu River in the heart of Shanghai as part of HSBC's efforts to promote it title sponsorship of Asia 's richest tournament.

Woods, who has won titles all round the world including Thailand and Japan , believes the HSBC Champions will also benefit the Asian players. " I think it's great exposure for Asian players to be able to play and compete against some of the best. Because, you know, in order to learn and grow and become better, you have to play against better competition. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for them to compete, a wonderful opportunity for them to learn and grow.

"But also I think it's great exposure for the Asian Tour, as well, and Chinese golf. It's a win for everyone and everyone is going to enjoy and have a great week this week," said Woods, a 46-time winner on the PGA Tour.

The Asian Tour stars are relishing the prospect of taking on Woods and the planet's best players on their home soil. The 40-year-old Zhang is one who is fired up after being paired with Woods and Montgomerie in the featured group.

"There will be pressure on the Asian Tour players to compete this week because we have a very strong field led by Tiger. I have played with Tiger twice previously and I'd love to play in the same group with him this week," said Zhang, one of China 's pioneer professionals.

The Chinese ace, a five-time winner in Asia , said Woods' appearance in the HSBC Champions would further accelerate the growth of the game in his native country. "Tiger's presence in China has moved China golf forward by 10 years. In 1995 China staged the World Cup and that helped promote golf in our country then.

"Now 10 years later, Tiger is here for his first official event and he is known all round the world. Young Chinese kids who don't know golf will want to learn the game and hopefully this will help develop golf further," said Zhang.

While Zhang has been China 's proud flagbearer over the past decade, 16-year-old Chinese amateur Hu Mu, trained by swing guru David Leadbetter, has been touted as the Chinese version of Tiger Woods. The teenager has been invited to play in this week's HSBC Champions, which has attracted Woods' interest.

"I had a chance to meet him (Hu) this morning. I haven't seen him hit a shot, so I'm curious to see. I certainly will be curious to follow his play this week. I've heard some things about him, and obviously, what a talent, so you're always curious to check out the new talent," said Woods.

Thailand 's Thaworn, who will play alongside Fijian Singh in the opening two rounds, is also looking forward to rubbing shoulders with the world's best players. "With Tiger here, it's a boom for Asian players. It's always good to have him in the field as it gives us an opportunity to raise our own games and play for a lot of money," said the Thai, who has won three times this season.

November 8, 2005

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