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Henrik Stenson favourite for BMW Asian Open

Swedish sensation Henrik Stenson is hoping to get back into the groove when he tees off in the US$1.8 million BMW Asian Open at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club on Thursday.

Stenson , ranked 15th in the world, and Scotsman Colin Montgomerie will feature in the tournament as firm favourites, being the highest two ranked players in the elite field. Montgomerie , the UBS Hong Kong Open champion, is a rung below Stenson in the world ranking.

The Asian Tour stars are also set to shine in the co-sanctioned event with the European Tour with India 's Jeev Milkha Singh, the current Asian Tour's UBS Order of Merit leader, Thai stalwarts Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant as well as Chinese top duo Zhang Lian- wei and Liang Wen- chong in the fray.

But as for the stylish Swede, he is desperately looking to regain his early 2006 form which saw him finish runner-up in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January, followed by a victorious run in The Commercialbank Qatar Masters a week later. Stenson then claimed seventh position in the Dubai Desert Classic and was also third in The Players Championship in the US .

“It's been a bit of a struggle since Dubai ," conceded Stenson . "I have not been swinging it well and have not been able to place the ball where I want to. At the US Masters (two weeks ago), I had a bad finish on the first day on the last two holes and I lost my patience, and you can't do that at Augusta . It was a good experience for next year where I hope to do better.

“I had a bad stretch but my coach (Pete Cowen) got it together and helped improve my short game. It's all been working good for the past year and the half,” he said.

Stenson made a strong impression last season where he was runner-up in three events and finished eighth on the European Tour Order of Merit. After a solid start this year, he is now ranked fourth to make Europe 's Ryder Cup team.

“I'm looking forward to the Ryder Cup later this year and will try to have a couple of good weeks and be as prepared as I can be. It's not about making the team, it's about playing well too and that's what I plan to do here,” he said.

Stenson will face a stiff challenge in the BMW Asian O pen where he will face Asia 's elite and some of the best from Europe , including Ryder Cup heroes Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain , the 2004 BMW Asian O pen winner, and big Dane Thomas Bjorn.

“Miguel and Thomas are good players. It's always hard to know who you are going to have to beat to win the tournament. I'm playing a little bit better so hopefully I can be up there on Sunday for a chance to win it and a few guys from the Asian Tour are going to be up there as well,” said Stenson .

Long-time Chinese flagbearer Zhang enjoys playing in Shanghai as he looks to shake off the painful experience of missing the halfway cut in his national O pen in Beijing last week.

“I have played here about five times and I always love it here. The rough is not very thick this week and the course is very scenic,” said Zhang, a five-time Asian Tour winner.

“The weather should be fine and I'm pretty confident as I hope to come out good and produce a solid performance here,” he said.

Other big-name players chasing for the first prize of US$300,000 include England 's Paul Casey, who has tasted two victories previously in China , and England 's six-time major winner Nick Faldo .

English duo Luke Donald and David Howell, both players ranked in the top-20 in the world, had to withdraw from the event with injuries.

The BMW Asian O pen 2006 kicked off with a presentation of the new BMW M6 car by six-time Major winner Nick Faldo and Dr Christoph Stark, President and CEO of BMW Region China .

Following that, Montgomerie , Faldo , Jimenez, Bjorn, Stenson and Zhang each partnered a Chinese amateur player in a nine-hole BMW Star Challenge played using the greensome format.

The duo of Bjorn and BMW China Junior Golf Team member Quan Da won with a score one-under-par 35 and claimed a prize of a Emirates Business Class return ticket to any destination and a BMW bicycle respectively.

The o pen ing day's festivities ended with a Media Chat where international stars and members of the BMW China Junior Golf Team met with over 100 local and international media.

The BMW Asian O pen is being played for the third straight year at Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club with an increased prize fund from last year's US$1.5 million.



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