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New era for European Tour starts this week

Phil Mickelson wants to cement his new reputation as a globe-trotting golfer by defending his HSBC Champions title as the European Tour begins a new era at the $5 million tournament in Shanghai this weekend.

The world number two heads a strong field with six of the seven top active players in the world, including British Open and U.S. PGA champion Padraig Harrington, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and newly-crowned European champion Robert Karlsson of Sweden.

Mickelson had a reputation as a poor traveller before last year’s playoff victory but enjoyed playing outside the U.S. so much he will this week discuss with officials taking up a European tour card for 2009.

“Winning in Shanghai was a very big win for me, it was one of my biggest wins internationally and gave me a lot of exposure into China and into many of the Asian markets,” the 38-year-old left-hander told a teleconference last week.

The Champions is Asia’s joint richest event and the first tournament of the 2009 European season, which has been dubbed the “Race to Dubai” as players battle for the right to compete for $20 million at the tour championship in the United Arab Emirates.

Ireland’s Harrington will be flying to China from this season’s tour finale at the Volvo Masters in Spain, where he narrowly lost out to Karlsson in the order of merit race.

“I’m keen to go play,” said the world number five. “I’m trying not to get into my winter mode of changing things and practising. I have two more weeks to go so just try and stick with it and then we can do what we like.”

Youngsters Camilo Villegas of Colombia and American Anthony Kim, the world number seven and eight, have decided to play on the European Tour and the U.S. PGA next year.

Kim did no harm to his burgeoning reputation with his part in winning the Ryder Cup for the U.S. in September and Mickelson has nothing but compliments for the 23-year-old who played alongside him at Valhalla.

“I think that Anthony Kim is an amazing talent in the game,” he said. “He has no weaknesses in his game and he has a lot of guts. He really knows how to close it out, how to play tough, he’s a tough competitor.”

Villegas has climbed from number 56 in the world this season on the back of two wins on the PGA Tour during the Fedex Cup.

“I’m in the form of my life and I can’t wait to take on all the other top players in Shanghai,” said the 26-year-old.

South Africa’s 2008 U.S. Masters champion Trevor Immelman is also in the field for the event, which is co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, the PGA Tour of Australasia, the Sunshine Tour and the China Golf Association.


November 4, 2008

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